Federal judges hear PA district map challenge
By MARK SCOLFORO
HARRISBURG — A request by eight GOP congressmen in Pennsylvania to halt the use of a new congressional district map in this year’s elections was placed in the hands of three Republican-appointed federal judges Friday.
The panel, named pursuant to a federal law governing constitutional challenges to congressional reapportionment, consists of Judge Christopher Conner , a Pennsylvania-based district judge; Judge Jerome Simandle , a senior district judge from New Jersey; and Judge Kent Jordan , a circuit judge who was formerly a district judge in Delaware.
Conner and Jordan were chosen for the federal bench by President George W. Bush, while Simandle was nominated by President George H.W. Bush.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Harrisburg against state elections officials seeks an injunction against the map produced Monday by the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court.
A lawyer who works for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday wrote to Conner on behalf of the elections officials, noting that the two senior Republican leaders in the Legislature have a request for a stay of the new map pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Deputy General Counsel Thomas Howell asked Conner to defer action on the congressmen’s lawsuit until that request has been resolved.
Howell claimed that the lawsuit against Wolf’s acting secretary of state and the head of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation has “significant hurdles” and is “rife with legal and factual errors.”
The congressmen, joined by two GOP state senators, have asked the federal court to require the use of a 2011 congressional district map, drafted by Republicans, for this year’s primary and general elections. They argue the map the state justices announced Monday is biased in favor of Democrats, and they did not give lawmakers sufficient time to produce their own replacement map.
In the parallel case, House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put the new map on hold, arguing state justices overstepped their authority. On Thursday the leaders went back to the state Supreme Court to ask it to delay the map .
Wolf and other parties have been given until noon Monday to weigh in.
The 2011 map is widely considered among the nation’s most gerrymandered, and has helped Republicans maintain a 13-5 edge in the congressional delegation for three elections.
A majority on the state Supreme Court ruled in January that the 2011 map violated the state constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections.
Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters in Pennsylvania, but Republican President Donald Trump narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton in the state during the 2016 election.
Democrats are hopeful that new Pennsylvania congressional districts will help them flip enough Republican seats to retake majority control of the U.S. House this year. Six Pennsylvania congressman elected in 2016 are not running again, an unusually large number.
Pennsylvania congressional candidates can begin collecting signatures to get on the May 15 primary ballot starting Tuesday. Wolf’s office has said he is working to implement the court-drawn map for this year’s elections.