US Supreme Court Weighing "Unprecedented" Request To effect Pennsylvania Redistricting Ruling On Hold
Supporters of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that would lead to fresh congressional maps — likely to the benefit of Democrats — for the 2018 elections urged the US Supreme Court on Friday to stay out of the state court matter.
Republican lawmakers and some Republican voters gain asked the US Supreme Court to choose the strange step of putting the state high court’s order on hold, and Justice Samuel Alito asked parties in the case to reply to the stay request by Friday afternoon.
“Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has held that the 2011 map ‘clearly, plainly and palpably’ violates Pennsylvania’s structure,” lawyers for the League of Women Voters wrote in opposing the stay request on Friday. “It would be unprecedented for this Court to interfere with the state court’s determination approximately its own state’s law.”
On Jan. 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a brief ruling that the congressional map violated the state’s structure in a case brought by the League and others arguing that it was an unconstitutional “partisan” gerrymander. Under the map, only five of the state’s 18 congressional districts are represented by Democrats — despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the swing state. That ruling was 5-2.
One of the justices in the majority, however, would gain delayed the implementation of the ruling due to the closely approaching time for candidates to file to flee for Congress in the state and potential confusion that could result. On a later 4-3 vote, reflecting that view, the state court denied a request to stay its ruling.
Republican lawmakers, however, also asked the US Supreme Court to effect the ruling on hold, arguing that the ruling violates a federal constitutional provision known as the Elections Clause. As they detailed in their request, “The structure’s Elections Clause provides that ‘[t]he Times, Places and Manner’ of congressional elections ‘shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof’ unless ‘Congress’ should ‘acquire or alter such Regulations.'”
Normally, a state supreme court’s ruling on state constitutional issues cannot be reviewed by the US Supreme Court. The Republican lawmakers — who are supported in their request by Republican voters in Pennsylvania and eight states and legislative leaders in a ninth state — argued that US Supreme Court can and should step in because, they claimed, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions went too far in light of the Elections Clause.
“This is not simply a question of a state supreme court interpreting its state structure,” the Republican lawmakers argued, “but a state supreme court usurping that state’s legislature’s authority expressly granted under [the Elections Clause.” Specifically, the Republican lawmakers argued that the state high court justices were “legislat[ing] from the bench” in the ruling, that doing so violates the Elections Clause, and that “the question of what does and does not constitute a ‘legislative function’ under the Elections Clause is a question of federal, not state, law.”
The lawmakers also relied heavily on a 2004 opinion from Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas disagreeing with the court’s decision not to hear a case challenging a state court’s ruling on a redistricting question. Referring to the three-justice dissent, the Pennsylvania lawmakers’ lawyers wrote that “multiple Justices of this Court gain previously suggested [this issue] is ripe and appropriate for resolution in this Court.”
In Friday’s responses, state executive department officials urged the US Supreme Court to deny the stay request.
“[T]he Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that partisan gerrymandering violates the state structure, and ordered an appropriate remedy,” lawyers for Democratic Gov. Thomas Wolf and other officials wrote. “That should be the halt of this matter: This Court is not and should not be in the commerce, trade of policing the correctness of state courts’ interpretation of their own constitutions.”
Even whether the issue could be reviewed by the US Supreme Court, the Democratic executive department officials argue that the Republican lawmakers’ claim that the state high court improperly took on a legislative role is wrong. “The order below represents an ordinary exercise of the judicial review power, not a usurpation of legislative authority,” they wrote.
The League of Women Voters’ opposition to the stay request went further, arguing that the Republican lawmakers’ would “gain no chance of success on the merits” whether the US Supreme Court were to hear the case.
“Their stay applications are just a ploy to preserve a congressional map that violates Pennsylvania’s structure for one more election cycle,” the League’s lawyers argued.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & homosexual Journalists organization award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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