Court’s rejection of PA electoral map affirms conference’s action

By John W. Coleman

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, Jan. 22, that the state’s congressional map violates the constitution and discriminates against Democrats. The decision affirms a resolution approved by the 2017 Eastern PA Annual Conference that called on members to advocate for legislative redistricting reform via a transparent, nonpartisan citizens commission that would redraw electoral districts for greater fairness (2017-03 Support of a Citizens Commission for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting).

The court’s order blocks the electoral map’s use in primaries this May and requires a new map to be drawn immediately. The state’s General Assembly has until Feb. 9 to pass a constitutional map, or the court will do it for them. The ruling is part of a recent trend of opposition to extreme partisan gerrymandering in several states across the country.

“The court’s decision is a victory on the road to redistricting reform and a breakthrough in the anti-gerrymandering campaign,” said the Rev. Dai Morgan, Coordinator of UM Advocacy in Pennsylvania. “However, as important as this decision is, it is not the end.

“The goal of the annual conference’s resolution—the creation of a truly independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation or partisanship—has not been fulfilled,” explained Morgan, who does state legislative advocacy and education for the state’s three UM conferences (Eastern PA, Susquehanna and Western PA). “We should continue efforts to seek long-term change of both state and federal legislative districts, but the solution will come through the state legislature, not the courts.

“More legislators are paying attention, and the cosponsors to legislative redistricting bills are growing,” Morgan continued. “The bills to support are House Bill 722 and Senate Bill 22. Now is a good time to contact legislative leadership to support these bills. Especially, call or write to state Senator Joseph Scarnati and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai.” (See Morgan’s monthly legislative advocacy reports on our Advocacy wepage.)

“Although the court ruling is likely to be challenged,” commented Barbara Drake, who chairs Eastern PA Conference’s Church and Society Work Team, “this is a step in the right direction of taking redistricting out of the hands of the political parties who now benefit by how the map is drawn.”

Drake’s team presented Annual Conference Resoluton 2017-03 “in support of a Citizens Commission for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting.”  “I am delighted that the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the present congressional map violates the state constitution and is not to be used for the May primaries,” she said. “I live in PA’s Seventh Congressional District, which the Philadelphia Inquirer described as “an example of extreme partisan gerrymandering.  It includes sections of five counties and is held together in some places by a single building.”