The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will draw a new state congressional district map after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania legislature got locked in a stalemate over the map drawn by Republicans.
Though the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court had been poised to take over the redistricting process, the state Supreme Court used its authority on Wednesday to bypass the lower court to prevent “protracted appeals” that could derail the state’s election calendar (the Pennsylvania primaries are in May), according to the high court’s order.
Under the order, Commonwealth Court judge Patricia McCullough will serve as a special master to put together a proposal for a new map based on “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” plus a report backing her recommendation, and file both documents to the Supreme Court by Monday. Then all parties in the case will have a week to respond.
McCullough’s proposal isn’t binding, and the high court can ultimately draw the map however it sees fit.
While the Supreme Court’s order doesn’t necessarily mean game over for Pennsylvania Republicans’ gerrymandering efforts, they only have few “long-shot” options to keep fighting, according to Ben Geffen, a staff attorney who works on voting rights at the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia and is representing voting rights groups in the case (he was also involved in the 2018 Pennsylvania Supreme Court battle over gerrymandering).
“As a legal matter, I do think the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have the final say in this case,” Geffen told TPM in a phone interview.
Republicans could try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that Wolf doesn’t have the authority to veto their map, Geffen said, but they would be “asking to unwind a century of precedent, and that’s a tall ask.”
McCullough is the justice who was overseeing the court battle over the map before the Supreme Court took over. She is part of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s GOP majority.
In contrast, the Supreme Court has a Democratic majority of 5-2.
However, Geffen told TPM that he doesn’t expect a partisan outcome from the case given how the district map the high court established in the 2018 case was “by any measure a fair map.”
“I don’t think there’s any reason to radically change their approach,” he said.
The order stated that the court will hear arguments over McCullough’s proposal on Feb. 18 before the justices make their final decision.
Read the order below: