June 27, 2019 — Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts cannot stop politicians from manipulating district maps to entrench themselves and their parties in power and to thwart the will of voters. This is a deeply disappointing decision for our republican form of government.
But thanks to the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pennsylvania voters elected their U.S. House members under a fair map in 2018, and will use the same map in 2020. Pennsylvania’s new map was a result of the successful League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania case filed by the Public Interest Law Center and Arnold & Porter on behalf of Pennsylvania voters in each congressional district. Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision made it clear that that state courts are still able to address partisan gerrymandering. Advocates for fair maps now will look to state court challenges, like the pioneering Pennsylvania case, as a proven alternative for challenging partisan maps.
Thanks to the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pennsylvania voters elected their U.S. House members under a fair map in 2018, and will use the same map in 2020
Today’s decision comes at a time of increasing national awareness of, and frustration with, political gerrymandering ahead of the next round of redistricting in 2021. Voters in states across the country, including in Pennsylvania, are demanding a fair, transparent, and non-partisan redistricting process.
“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision today,” said Ben Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center. “But as we know from our victory in 2018, state constitutions can still provide the tools voters need to successfully challenge partisan gerrymanders.
“This decision is not the end of the fight against partisan gerrymandering—far from it,” said Mimi McKenzie, Legal Director at the Public Interest Law Center. “Voters in states around the country should look to protections in their state constitutions and to state courts to ensure that the maps drawn in 2021 are fair and allow every vote to count. Even today’s shameful decision from the Supreme Court acknowledged that ‘state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.’ Nevertheless, we vehemently disagree that the U.S. Constitution does not provide similar protections for the fundamental right to vote.”
This decision is not the end of the fight against partisan gerrymandering—far from it.
In 2017, the Public Interest Law Center and Arnold & Porter, on behalf of League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and 18 individual voters representing each congressional district, filed a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map. Voters contended that in 2011, Pennsylvania elected officials manipulated the congressional district boundaries to entrench a majority Republican delegation in Congress and minimize the ability of Democratic voters to elect candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The lawsuit alleged that these actions violated the petitioners’ rights to free expression and association under the Pennsylvania Constitution, and that the map discriminated against them in violation of the state Constitution’s equal protection guarantees, including its Free and Equal Elections Clause. About half of the states have similar clauses in their constitutions, and every state constitution has more explicit language than the U.S. Constitution about the right to vote.
After striking down Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional map, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the use of a new, fair map in the 2018 primaries and general elections. The decision was based solely on the Pennsylvania Constitution. Because state supreme courts have the last word on the meaning of state constitutions, nothing in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions will undercut the power of state courts to strike down partisan gerrymanders.