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Pennsylvania Unions File Amici Brief in Gerrymandering Case

January 15th, 2018

By John R. Bielski

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Gerrymandering Case

On January 5, 2018, eight unions– the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, AFSCME Council 13, AFGE, AFT Pennsylvania, APSCUF, CWA District 2-13, SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, UFCW Local 1776 and UNITEHERE–filed an amici brief in support of a legal challenge to the Pennsylvania congressional redistricting map created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2011. Petitioners, who filed the complaint, include the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and eighteen voters residing in the eighteen congressional districts of Pennsylvania. The Petitioners allege that the congressional districts violate several provisions of the state constitution.

Petitioners filed the challenge based on a wealth of evidence that the Respondents—the Governor, Lt. Governor, the General Assembly, and the Majority Leaders of the House and Senate—drew congressional districts in 2011 whose sole purpose was to create a supermajority of congressional seats for the Republicans at the expense of the Democrats. Despite each party having close to the same number of registered voters, the 2011 redistricting plan created a split of 13 seats for Republicans and 5 seats for Democrats over the last three election cycles since passage of plan. Due to the hyper-partisan nature of the redistricting plan, changes in the composition of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Effectively, it results in incumbency protection for those individuals who hold the eighteen congressional seats.

The lawsuit argues that the seats violate provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution protecting the rights to free speech and assembly, the right to voting and free and equal elections, and the right to equality and nondiscrimination. The Unions’ amici brief provides a detailed discussion how the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater protections in the areas of speech and assembly, elections and voting, and equality and nondiscrimination than found in the federal constitution, and urges the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to interpret those provisions separate and apart from any analogous provisions found in the U.S. Constitution. If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted this approach, amici argue, the 2011 redistricting plan would clearly be unconstitutional.

The case is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after a judge of the Commonwealth Court issued proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on December 29, 2017, in which his recommended decision was that the 2011 redistricting map did not violate the state constitution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court immediately entered a scheduling order directing the parties to file briefs in opposition to or in support of the recommended decision. Briefing has now concluded and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the matter on January 17, 2018. It is expected that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will rule on the matter before the election in May, 2018.

For more information about the case, read “Pennsylvania Supreme Court to decide if state congressional district map is a partisan gerrymander.”

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