By Victoria LaVelle
In a landmark decision, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down the congressional districting maps and declared them to be “clearly, plainly, and palpably unconstitutional.”
Pennsylvania’s high court had examined the state’s 18 congressional districts and concluded that the maps geographical lines were artistically drawn by state Republicans lawmakers to favor their own political majority, otherwise known as “gerrymandering.”
The benchmark 5-2 vote was immediately met with scrutiny and concern from many of the state’s Republican legislators.
Despite a court order, which granted Republican lawmakers the duty and privilege to remap their own districts again, some Republicans called for the impeachment of all five Democrats on the states Supreme Court who deemed the previous maps unconstitutional.
The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Because the previously rejected congressional district boundaries have always been drawn to comply with the U.S. Constitution, some Republicans have argued that the issue is obsolete.
Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers have filed a lawsuit to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month in an attempt to block recent alterations to the state’s congressional remapping. Harrisburg’s Republicans are concerned the recent changes will create confusion for Pennsylvania voters accustomed to the previously assigned districts and who may be unaware that all of Delaware County is now District 5, according to Michael Rader, chief of staff for Pennsylvania State Senator Tom McGarrigle. (R., Chester, Delaware) who represents the 26th District.
It’s a standard practice for congressional districts to be redrawn every 10 years as data from the U.S. Census report becomes readily available and examined by state lawmakers.
The main objective is to gather census statistics regarding registered voters and political affiliations every decade to redraw new district lines and extend borders to maintain a level and equally balanced political playing field for both Republicans and Democrats alike.
However, in the past three election cycles Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 U.S. congressional seats despite Pennsylvania’s nearly equal numbers of Democrat and Republican voters alike.
Delaware County was dwarfed into three separate congressional districts by the states Republican legislators in 2011. Consequently, the irregular shaped districting gained the national spotlight and became known as the most gerrymandered district in the nation’s history.
Gerrymandering has occurred for different agendas and in many forms. A common practice in the 60’s known as “racial gerrymandering” was utilized as a process that spread minority voters thin, spanning them across as many districts as possible.
At the height of the civil rights movement, racial gerrymandering was embraced by southern state legislatures to severely limit the power of the black vote. Few in numbers, the odds were deliberately stacked against them.
The courts prohibited the racially biased practice in 1965 and ordered states to remap districting unbiased to African-American voters wanting to elect candidates of their choice.
In hindsight, the court’s goodwill solution that granted African-Americans voters a more balanced political power is now being utilized to deprive them of it. The increasing number of congressional districts nationwide being “over packed” beyond the threshold with minority voters skyrocketed after the 2011 census-redistricting.
As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Democrats are sounding the alarm over an alarming defect that lies in the geographic lines drawn around congressional districts enabling state legislatures to blueprint their own precincts. In broader terms, states are granting politicians permission to cherry pick their own voters, instead of the process being the other way around.
American Democracy means “we the people” selecting our politicians and not vice-versa as it currently stands in the bulk of the nation’s Congressional districts. Gerrymandering undermines the vision layout by the founding fathers, and violates the rights slated in the U.S. Constitution
Dubbed as a “great communicator,” even the iconic former President Ronald Reagan denounced the practice of gerrymandering and advocated for fair and equal redistricting and elections nationwide during both of his presidential terms.
Bipartisan politics are key to the success of American democracy. Our elected officials who win elections are more likely to get things accomplished if they are held accountable as lawmakers by their constituents.
So the state legislators responsible for drawing new boundaries should follow the same process as that which determines how they are elected.
District lines for state officials are clear and clean cut because they are drawn on a bi-partisan method. The legislative power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which includes 50 members elected to the state Senate and 203 members to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Pennsylvania Senate districts are referred to as state legislative districts. Article II, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that these districts be drawn by a five-member commission. Four of these are the majority and minority leaders of the PA House and Senate. These four then select a fifth member to serve as the commission chair. If the four cannot agree, then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints a chair.
Under these guidelines, state officials are elected by the people which is the way democracy is meant to be. This method of redistricting should serve as the golden standard and protégé for any future congressional districting plans.
Pennsylvania State Senate District 26 in Delaware County is regarded as one of the state’s most honorable seats held by McGarrigle. Elected into the state legislature in 2014, he has withstood years of success despite gains from Democratic voter registration due to strong constituent service records and the strong backing from local unions.
Rader explained that McGarrigle is open to improving the complex redistricting efforts following each census.
“Though the new congressional maps don’t pertain to McGarrigle’s election,” Rader said. “Any and all matters that pertain to the best interests of Senator McGarrigle’s constituents is his priority.”
Since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, the political divide in the nation has deepened. Trumps entire campaign shouted strong messages that accused our general elections of being corrupt and rigged, yet look who’s sitting at the realm promoting the continued practice of gerrymandering today.
“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the newly issued Congressional Map,” Trump tweeted. “All the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your original 2011 map was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”
Despite Trump’s tweets, the wave of Democratic candidates running for seats in the U.S. Senate and Congress is at an all-time historic high.
Knowing that the election process is being “unrigged” is a reason for everyone to get out there and vote on Nov. 6th.
Contact Victoria Lavelle at firstname.lastname@example.org