On Monday, March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a simple one-sentence order with regard to the case formally known as Turzai v. League of Women Voters. The order read in full, “The application for stay presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
What this means is that the Justices have refused to take a case brought before them by Pennsylvania lawmakers trying to block a redistricting plan that the Supreme Court of that state has ordered be implemented. It appears the redistricting plan will be in effect for the primaries this spring.
The Pennsylvania high court quite deliberately founded its reasoning and judgment as a remedy to the earlier gerrymander, on the language of the state’s constitution, not that of the United States, in order to make it likely the U.S. Supreme Court would do exactly this, treat the state supreme court’s decision as the final say on the matter.
Nonetheless, petitioning legislators, including Speaker Mike Turzai, whose name gotten onto the case caption, complained that the state’s high court, by ordering into effect a specific new plan, had violated the “elections clause” of the federal constitution, Article I, section 4.
This clause says that the “times, places, and manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” subject to the Congress’ ability to make a law preempting the states’ regulations. In this case, the petitioners said, the “manner” of elections was being determined by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is neither the state legislature nor Congress.
Left Wing View
On social media, the Hangley family is celebrating. Bill Hangley Jr., a reporter who covers public education, tweeted, “If you happen to see that a @MicheleHangley helped make the successful case for redistricting, and you wonder if that’s my sister, WELL YER DARN TOOTIN THAT’S MY SISTER.”
This caused the aforesaid Michele Hangley to retweet that, and to add that she is “full of pride in our wonderful new Pennsylvania map and this hard fought victory over gerrymandering! Today is a very good day.”
Ms Hangley is first named partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller which represented the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in this litigation. Although the litigation was tangled, as to the bottom line the Commonwealth was on the same side as the League of Women Voters, and opposed to the Republican legislators led by Mr. Turzai.
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments about two other gerrymandering cases already this term: it heard the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, on October 3. Commentators who heard the arguments that day have suggested that the decision turns on Justice Antonin Kennedy, and will likely be 5-4 in favor of whichever view Kennedy adopts. The relatively ‘liberal’ Justices all believe that the time has come to strike decisively against partisan gerrymandering even when it has no racial component, while four ‘conservative’ Justices want to take a hands-off attitude and let things play out in the states.
Right Wing View
SCOTUS likely rejected an appeal from the Pennsylvania case because it would simply have muddied an issue that is more clearly presented in the Wisconsin case, and in trictanother arising out of Maryland.
One finds an explanation of this in a recent piece in the conservative blog RedState.
On social media, the dominant rightward view is that expressed by a twitter denizen who calls himself Rseif: “U.S. Supreme Court just allowed gerrymandering to replace gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.” Most conservatives, that is, concede that the old Pennsylvania lines look at best ugly and (for Republicans) convenient, but they contend that the imposition of the new lines by a court is worse.
The conservative journal The Weekly Standard ran a piece on this point, saying that the state’s Supreme Court was never interested in “fair play” and only wanted to “impose its own map on the state.”
In the same vein, Trump supporter Jack Bailey tweets, “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has no legal authority to draw a Congressional electoral district map, but it is controlled by partisan Democratic judges, so they just did it anyway.”