Pennsylvania group to keep pushing for independent redistricting commission |

Pennsylvania group to keep pushing for independent redistricting commission

Jamie Martines
The Supreme Court is seen under stormy skies in Washington, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Pennsylvania advocates for redistricting reform will keep pushing for an independent commission to oversee the process in light of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to keep courts out of state efforts to address gerrymandering.

The high court’s conservative majority decided in a 5-4 ruling that partisan gerrymandering — drawing congressional or legislative districts to benefit a political party — isn’t an issue that should be challenged in federal court, The Associated Press reported.

“The better outcome would be to say that all voters do have the right to free and equal elections, and that there are specific standards for what that might look like,” said Carol Kuniholm, chair of the group Fair Districts PA.

In the absence of such direction, Kuniholm said Pennsylvania — already among the most gerrymandered states in terms of state House and Senate districts, she said — is back to where it started, with no option for recourse in the courts if state officials don’t draw district lines fairly.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that states can achieve fair redistricting by passing reforms.

“We have never struck down a partisan gerrymander as unconstitutional — despite various requests over the past 45 years,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, according to the AP. “The expansion of judicial authority would not be into just any area of controversy, but into one of the most intensely partisan aspects of American political life.”

The court rejected challenges to Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a Democratic district in Maryland. Both cases were intended to limit partisan districting plans that could arise when one party controls state offices.

“Our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering,” Roberts wrote, acknowledging that the North Carolina and Maryland maps are “highly partisan.”

That argument highlights the need for an independent commission composed of citizens who are not elected officials and do not benefit from how the lines are drawn in order to keep their jobs, Kuniholm said.

“It’s a Catch-22: Reform is not possible if your legislative leaders don’t listen,” Kuniholm said. “And they don’t need to listen if they have gerrymandered maps.”

The next round of redistricting will happen in 2021, after 2020 census results are available.

“For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the dissenting opinion for the four liberals on the bench, adding that partisan gerrymandering “amounts to ‘rigging elections.’”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: News | Pennsylvania
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