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Building A New Congressional Map Is Easy, Getting It Passed Might Not Be

Matt Rourke
The Pennsylvania Legislature has until Fri., Feb. 9, 2018, to pass a new congressional map under an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to intervene in the case requiring Pennsylvania lawmakers to draw new congressional districts before the May primary, there’s just three days left to create a new map.

GOP lawmakers have balked at the Friday timeline and contend they've received no guidance from the state Supreme Court, which threw out the existing map, on what's wrong with the current lines.


In a Jan. 22 order, the court only provided criteria for drawing new lines: ensuring as close to equal populations as possible in each district, making the districts compact and contiguous, and not splitting counties, municipalities and wards where possible. It has yet to hand down the full opinion it promised in the order.


An attorney for the voters who successfully challenged the map, Dan Jacobson, said the criteria laid out by the court are sufficient.


“It’s relatively easy using modern mapping software to take data on Pennsylvania’s population and geography in cities and counties and towns and to implement those criteria," Jacobson said. "In a matter of 24 hours, you can come up with thousands of possible plans.”


Politics is the only thing standing in the way of a new map, he said.


“They don’t know what to do,” he said, “because they want to consider partisan considerations. But it’s really not that hard if you just ignore those things.”

The legislature’s top two Republican lawmakers, House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, met with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday, but they weren’t able to reach an agreement.

Before the redistricting decision, Democrats had zeroed in on six Pennsylvania congressional districts vulnerable this election out of 91 they are targeting nationwide. Only California and New York have more top targets for House Democrats.

Republicans aren’t the only group concerned about the impending deadline for a new plan. While Democratic Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer agrees a replacement is needed, he warns that a quick turnaround could create “confusion, if not chaos” both for candidates and voters.

Once a plan is submitted, Gov. Tom Wolf has to approve it and return it to the state’s high court by Feb. 15. Otherwise, justices plan to take proposals and develop their own map in time for the May 15 primary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.