Pennsylvania to get new congressional map

New lines will be drawn for the May 15 primary

By Tom Waring

The Times

Court ordered: The state Supreme Court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to draw new maps by Feb. 9. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf must accept the map by Feb. 15. SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA

The state Supreme Court last week ruled that the congressional maps are unconstitutional and ordered new lines to be drawn for the May 15 primary.

The map challenge was led by the League of Women Voters and Democrats in each of the 18 congressional districts. The AFL-CIO supported the challenge.

The Court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to draw new maps by Feb. 9. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf must accept the map by Feb. 15. If those deadlines are not met, then the Court will draw the map.

The maps must, the Court said, be “compact and contiguous” and not divide counties except where necessary to ensure equality of population.

Either way, the ruling favors Democrats. Republicans hold 12 of the 17 seats, with another GOP-leaning seat up in a March 13 special election.

A map drawn by the legislature that must be approved by Wolf would certainly give Democrats a chance to win more seats. The Democratic-controlled Court could come up with a plan even worse for the GOP.

At present, all of Bucks County is in the 8th Congressional District. The district also includes a portion of Montgomery County.

In Pennsylvania, there are about 12.78 million residents. The state has 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As the legislature draws new maps, it will try to keep each district with a population of about 710,000.

Bucks County has a population of about 627,000. Assuming the county will be kept in one district, another 83,000 people from a neighboring county would have to be included to fill out the district.

Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick will be seeking his second term. He’s facing a primary challenge from Valerie Mihalek, a former Yardley councilwoman, and Dean Malik, a lawyer from New Britain Township, an Iraq War veteran and a former Bucks County assistant district attorney.

Democratic candidates are progressive activist Steve Bacher; lawyer and U.S. Navy veteran Rachel Reddick; and wealthy lawyer Scott Wallace, the grandson of former Vice President Henry Wallace.

Wallace last week joined the race in a YouTube video announcement. In the video, Wallace said he hoped that Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia would have run. Marseglia then appears in the video saying that she isn’t interested in running, adding that she supports Wallace.

The National Republican Congressional Committee doubts Wallace has ever been registered to vote in the 8th Congressional District.

“As a self-described multimillionaire, Scott Wallace is already pushing for tax increases while more than half of all Pennsylvanians are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Voters have no appetite for a liberal Washington lobbyist trying to buy a congressional seat,” said NRCC spokesman Chris Martin.

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Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was one of only two members of the 12-member Pennsylvania Republican U.S. House delegation who did not sign a statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling on the state’s congressional map.

“Yesterday’s misguided decision by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court is an unfortunate example of the judicial branch inserting itself into the core functions of the legislative branch. Today’s Congressional maps were drafted and approved by both Republicans and Democrats. It also comes on the eve of a midterm election. An orderly electoral process is an essential function of our Democracy,” read a statement signed by 10 Republican congressmen.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey issued the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on the state’s congressional map.

“In a power grab of breathtaking audacity and overreach, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today ruled that it will arrogate to itself the authority to redraw the Commonwealth’s congressional districts, if the Pennsylvania General Assembly does not develop and Gov. Wolf does not approve a new statewide congressional map in a matter of weeks.

“As Chief Justice (Thomas) Saylor states in his dissent to the court’s ruling, the ‘crafting of congressional district boundaries is quintessentially a political endeavor assigned to state legislatures by the United States Constitution.’ Pennsylvania’s current congressional map was written and approved by majorities in the Pennsylvania House and Senate, and signed by Pennsylvania’s governor. The proper role of judges is to enforce the law, not to legislate their political beliefs from the bench, which is clearly what is happening in this case. It is my hope that the defendants will appeal this terrible decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack released a statement supporting the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the 2011 congressional maps.

“Today’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling is a victory for all of us who want to restore both the rights of Pennsylvania voters and the integrity of our redistricting process. This decision affirms our contention that the current districts were stretched and contorted to achieve maximum political advantage for one party in violation of the PA Constitution. The Supreme Court’s conclusion that the current congressional map ‘clearly, plainly and palpably’ violates our state constitution was supported by the overwhelming evidence presented in this case.

“Unlike related redistricting challenges that address U.S. Constitutional provisions, this challenge was restricted to unique provisions of the PA Constitution and thus prior federal court rulings should have no bearing on this decision. I look forward to working with leaders of the General Assembly over the next few weeks to develop a congressional map that truly serves Pennsylvania voters and unites the various communities in a way that gives them a meaningful voice in Congress.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen, too, backed the Supreme Court’s striking down of the state’s congressional map.

“The order issued by the Supreme Court today found that the congressional map violates Pennsylvania’s Constitution and has provided the methodology for new maps to be submitted and acted upon before the end of February. I want to thank and compliment the attorneys and parties who brought this before the Supreme Court and helped right this obvious wrong.” ••