State Watch

Supreme Court denies GOP request to block Pennsylvania gerrymandering decision

The Supreme Court on Monday denied Republican requests to delay a Pennsylvania state court ruling requiring the state's congressional map be redrawn, increasing the likelihood that the map will be redrawn ahead of November's midterm elections.

Pennsylvania is a fierce battleground state, with a half-dozen House seats now held by Republicans seen as competitive.

If the legislative map is redrawn in a way that benefits Democrats, it could help the party in its drive to retake the House. Republicans currently control 12 of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts.

Justice Samuel Alito, the member of the court who hears emergency requests from states, denied the efforts - one from state GOP lawmakers and another from Republican voters in the state - for a stay of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's January ruling that the state's congressional map had been drawn in a way that unfairly favored Republicans.

The Supreme Court's Public Information Office did not provide any further explanation.

The decision is a significant victory for opponents of gerrymandering, who have also taken the fight to Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Federal courts in those states also ordered new maps to be drawn for the 2018 midterms.

But Pennsylvania is the only state where the Supreme Court hasn't halted the lower court's decision.

In their request to Alito, GOP lawmakers argued that the state Supreme Court usurped Pennsylvania's legislative authority in tossing out the map.

"Redistricting involves lawmaking in its essential features and most important aspect," the lawmakers wrote, quoting Supreme Court precedent. "But for the first time in United States history, a state court, in attempting to play the role of 'lawmaker,' has invalidated a congressional districting plan without identifying a violation of the U.S. Constitution or a state constitutional or statutory provision providing specific redistricting criteria."

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's original ruling gave state lawmakers until Feb. 9 to submit a new map to Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who would then need to submit a plan to the court by Feb. 15. If they failed to meet that deadline, the court would redraw the map.

While it's unclear how the districts will be redrawn, Democrats are expected to benefit from new congressional lines. Democrats need to flip 24 seats in order to take back the House majority.

Some nonpartisan election handicappers predict that Democrats' prospects will increase in open-seat races that will be vacated by GOP Reps. Pat Meehan and Charlie Dent. Hillary Clinton narrowly won Meehan's district, while President Trump carried Dent's seat in the 2016 presidential election.

Other GOP-held seats that could be impacted by new lines are seats held by Pennsylvania Reps. Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick. Clinton won Costello's district and lost by a razor-thin margin in Fitzpatrick's.

The Monday decision comes after the Supreme Court in September put two rulings on hold that required Texas officials to redraw both the state's congressional and legislative districts.

And in January, the Supreme Court told state officials in North Carolina they don't have to redraw their map yet. The court temporarily blocked a lower court order to redraw the state's congressional lines by the end of the month, as the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Updated at 2:56 p.m.

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