HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s high court is on the cusp Monday of imposing a new congressional district map to take effect for the state’s 2018 elections, all but ensuring that Democratic prospects will improve in several seats and boosting the party’s quest to capture control of the U.S. House.
Monday is the state Supreme Court’s self-imposed deadline to unveil new district boundaries, replacing the 6-year-old boundaries the court struck down in a gerrymandering lawsuit last month.
New boundaries for Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts are to take effect starting in the May 15 primary and could make substantial changes to a map widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered.
The redrawn map also could dramatically change the face of Pennsylvania’s predominantly Republican, all-male delegation. Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters will have to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the deadline to submit paperwork to run.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supported the court’s decision, but Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers have said they will swiftly ask a federal court to block any new map, contending that the constitutional authority to draw congressional districts belongs to legislatures and governors, not courts.
Pennsylvania’s Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for GOP control of the U.S. House since 2010.
Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor’s office after the 2010 census drew boundaries that broke decades of precedent, split up cities and produced contorted districts to help maintain a big Republican advantage in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. They succeeded: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections under the now-invalidated map, even though Democrats hold a statewide registration edge over Republicans and most statewide offices.
The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled last month in a party-line decision that the district boundaries unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria.
The court gave the Republican-controlled Legislature 19 days to produce a new map that Wolf would accept. But top Republicans held no votes or serious negotiations on a map before they handed Wolf a proposal that he rejected.
The justices could pick a proposed map submitted by parties to the case, including the registered Democratic voters who sued last June. Or they could use one drawn by a Stanford University law professor who has assisted judges drawing districts in other states.
Candidates can start circulating petitions to run in their new districts on Feb. 27. Pennsylvania has seen a surge of interest in running for Congress with six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again — the most in four decades — and Democrats inflamed by anti-Trump sentiment.