Pennsylvania Supreme Court Issues New U.S. Congressional Map for 2018

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday issued a new U.S. Congressional Map for Pennsylvania that will be used in the 2018 Congressional elections.

The new map comes nearly a month after the Commonwealth Supreme Court ruled that the map that was being used violated the Commonwealth’s Constitution saying it “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Commonwealth’s Constitution.

At the time, the Court ordered the Commonwealth Legislature to submit a new map. House and Senate Republican leaders then submitted a proposal to the Court without taking it through either chamber and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf submitted his own proposal.

In the end, the Court drew its own map while renumbering the districts. Clarion, Jefferson, Venango, and Forest Counties will now be part of the 15th Congressional District, which will include those counties plus Centre, Cameron, McKean, Elk, Clearfield, Cambria, Indiana, Armstrong, and Warren Counties plus the eastern half of Butler County. Those counties were previously part of the Third, Fifth, and Ninth Congressional Districts.

Under the new map released by the Court, Clarion County is now all in one district. Previously, the county had been split into the Fifth District and the Third District with the line going through the southern portion of the county and in fact splitting the tiny township of Piney.

In drawing and releasing the new map, the Court on Monday said: “The Remedial Plan is superior or comparable to all plans submitted by the parties, the intervenors, and amici, by whichever Census-provided definition one employs.”

The main emphasis of the Court appeared to be on the compactness of the districts with an equal population in each district.

That would be in line with what Clarion University Political Science Professor Kevan Yenerall told EXPLORE in an interview last week.

“If you believe in compact, contiguous, and equal then you believe in the need for a new map,” Yenerall said. “That is not a partisan statement. If you believe in the fundamentals of democracy, then this issue should concern you.”

Yenerall’s thoughts are shared by many non-partisan groups, including the League of Women Votes and Fair Districts PA, which are continuing to try to get legislation that would change how the Commonwealth draws its Congressional and Commonwealth Legislative Districts every 10 years after the Federal Census.

Fair Districts PA recently convinced the Clarion Borough Council, among others, to support legislation that would put a less partisan group of 11 people (four from each of the two majority parties in the states and three from the lesser parties) in charge of redrawing the state’s Congressional and State Legislative lines following the 2020 Census.

Currently, the map is drawn by a commission of five – one picked by each of the majority and minority leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature and a fifth picked by those four and if those four can’t agree on a fifth member then the fifth members is picked by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court meaning whichever party controls the court then controls the redistricting committee as well.

With the Democratic Party currently in charge of the Supreme Court that could mean a map drawn to the liking of Democrats following the 2020 election, which would continue a trend of both parties taking turns gerrymandering the districts to their liking.

“Gerrymandering has been done by both parties,” Yenerall said. “It seems partisan right now because Republicans have won a lot of elections and have redrawn the maps. But both parties have done that. These maps have consequences for decades to come.”

According to Yenerall, one problem that happens when gerrymandering occurs is that it protects the incumbents and makes it difficult for challenges to occur.

Even with a new map, it wouldn’t shift the power of government in the commonwealth drastically because of the population makeup of Pennsylvania, Yenerall said.

“There is not going to be a massive win or loss for either party,” Yenerall said. “People who belong to both parties are clustered differently. Most Democrats are clustered in the big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while Republicans are spread out across Pennsylvania. There is no way Democrats could dominate statewide.”

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with the new map released by the Commonwealth Supreme Court, President Trump would have won 10 congressional districts under the map released Monday compared to the 12 he won under the map the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

One benefit of the new map, according to Yenerall, is that Congressional Districts may be better represented now.

“It would mean having a reliable person who knows the community,” Yenerall said. “The districts would be similar in demographics and economics as well. That would allow the representative to know the communities served better and the needs of the people better.”

One way to look at the problems created by gerrymandering is to look at the issue created by the way Clarion County school district lines are drawn.

Take Clarion and Clarion-Limestone for example.

People who live just below Clarion Elementary School, who could legitimately walk to school, are in the Clarion-Limestone School District and need to be bussed all the way out to Strattanville. Similarly, some residents of the C-L School District in the Applewood Valley section of Clarion Township actually have to drive past Clarion High School to get to C-L.

That has left residents of those areas scratching their heads for years, and gerrymandering of political districts does the same, according to Clarion Borough resident Jamie Phillips, who used that analogy in a casual conversation about the topic recently.

“It’s a practical matter,” Yenerall said. “The more concise the districts are, the more accountable and receptive the representative is to you. They are closer to you, so they know the local government better and the civic groups in the district better. You have a reliable representative who lives where you live.”

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