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Courts & Justice

Pennsylvania congressional district map lawsuit ends quietly

Pennsylvania Redistricting
Matt Rourke
Chairman Mark Nordenberg, center, speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. The commission voted Thursday in favor of new preliminary district maps over sharp objections from the House's Republican leader about how his chamber's district lines would change. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The remnants of a federal lawsuit by Republicans challenging Pennsylvania's new congressional districts were dropped Tuesday, three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene and stop the plan.

The case remained alive after the justices declined to prevent the 17-district map approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from being used in this year's elections.

But last week a three-person panel of federal judges in Pennsylvania pared the case back, leaving only a question about whether population variations of one or two residents out of hundreds of thousands met federal standards.

The plaintiffs' lawyers filed a one-sentence motion of voluntary dismissal of what remained of the case.

Wally Zimolong, their lawyer, noted that courts have not ruled on the underlying merits of the arguments he made.

“I 100% believe that the claims were meritorious when I filed them. I believe they're meritorious now,” Zimolong said. “Unfortunately, a three-judge panel disagreed on whether our clients have standing to raise those claims. The claims were not adjudicated as being unmeritorious.”

The group that sued was denied a request for a temporary restraining order by U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson in February, then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider that request.

When the U.S. Supreme Court turned it down, the underlying lawsuit went back to Wilson, who with two other judges ruled the plaintiffs lacked legal standing on the critical issues — whether the new congressional districts violate federal election law and if the state Supreme Court overstepped its authority by making changes to the election calendar.

The plaintiffs included two Republicans running for Congress this year and a member of the elections board in Susquehanna County.

They argued the new set of maps favors Democrats, including by putting Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson and Fred Keller into the same central Pennsylvania district.

The Pennsylvania justices picked a new set of district lines after a plan that had been passed by GOP majorities in the Legislature was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The defendants were 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 spokeswoman declined comment.