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New Gerrymandering Suit Challenges PA Maps In Federal Court

Pennsylvania's oddly shaped 7th District is often cited as an extreme example of gerrymandering.

Five Pennsylvania voters challenged the state's Congressional boundaries in federal court Monday, charging they're gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

Pennsylvania's Congressional districts are regarded as some of the most gerrymandered in the nation, giving Republicans 13 of the state's 18 Congressional seats even though there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the Commonwealth.

The boundaries are already the target of a suit filed in state court in June by the League of Women Voters. A Wisconsin gerrymandering case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney Alice Ballard said in an interview the suit filed Monday differs from many past gerrymandering claims that cited the equal protection clause of the constitution. She noted that the U. S. Supreme Court has mostly rejected partisan gerrymandering claims, concluding that the drawing of political boundaries to be an inherently political process.

The justices have left some room for judicial intervention if redistricting plans are egregiously gerrymandered. That puts critics in the position of developing a standard for the degree of gerrymandering.

The suit filed Monday cites the Elections Clause in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which grants state legislatures the authority to set the rules for electing members of Congress.

Ballard said those procedures must be neutral, and in Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers drew on partisan data about voters to craft boundaries that favor the GOP.

"Under the elections clause the legislatures are not to use political and partisan information to draw their congressional districts at all," Ballard said.

Another difference between the new litigation and the case filed by the League of Women Voters is whom is being sued.

The League named Republican legislative leaders as defendants, along with Gov. Tom Wolf and state election officials. The case filed in federal court Monday names only the state's Democratic governor and officials of the Department of State, which administer elections as defendants.

"We're suing these defendants because these are the people who are essentially carrying out the elections with districts as they were set by the legislature," Ballard said. "And we say carrying out these elections with this districts is in and of itself violative of the constitution."

Spokespersons for Gov. Wolf and the Department of State declined comment.

Wolf has been openly critical of the state's redistricting process, saying he favors the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw the lines.

Ballard's suit asks the court to order the state to devise a politically-neutral method for drawing Congressional boundaries before the next redistricting after the 2020 Census.

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, NewsWorks

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