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Supreme Court asked to intervene in Pennsylvania congressional maps case

Jacquelyn Martin

A group suing over Pennsylvania's new map of congressional districts asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to reconsider whether they are entitled to an emergency order to halt the plan.

The petition came three days after U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson in Harrisburg denied their request for a temporary restraining order against the 17-district map, saying she first would sort out “jurisdictional issues.” The six plaintiffs said those issues concern whether they have standing to challenge the map.

The U.S. Supreme Court asked for a response by late Thursday.

The plaintiffs, including two Republicans running for Congress this year, claim the new map favors Democrats, including by putting Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson and Fred Keller into the same central Pennsylvania district. The Legislature must approve the congressional map, they argued.

“Relief is urgently needed because candidates are already campaigning for office under this unconstitutional map, and the statutory deadline for obtaining the needed signatures on nomination petitions is March 8,” the plaintiffs told the U.S. Supreme Court.

A congressional districting plan passed by Republican majorities in the General Assembly had been vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The plaintiffsalso argued that the state Supreme Court-selected map improperly contains congressional districts that vary from each other by two residents, when it's possible to meet federal standards with deviations of just one person.

Unless state lawmakers and Wolf produce a new set of district lines, they want this year's congressional election to be run “at-large,” rather than district-by-district. That would have voters in all parts of the state picking all 17 members of Congress.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court last week made its choice for a new map and revised the petition-gathering schedule for congressional and statewide candidates.

“Having a court ‘suspend’ or delay the primary-election calendar to accommodate the judicial creation of a new congressional map is not an option,” the plaintiffs argued in the U.S. Supreme Court filing.

The defendants are Wolf, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman and Jessica Mathis, Wolf’s director of the Bureau of Election Services and Notaries. A Department of State spokesperson has declined to comment on the case, citing ongoing litigation.

Wilson allowed a group whose proposed map was chosen by the state Supreme Court to join the case. She said they had argued to be allowed into the case “in order to protect this collateral attack to their Pennsylvania Supreme Court litigation.”