The new makeup of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as a result of the election this month changes the prospects for repairing the way we set our voting districts.
Because Pennsylvania judges, once elected, only run for retention and that occurs only every 10 years, it is very likely that the Democrats sitting on our Supreme Court as of January will still be in the majority in 2021 when the next census is released and the redistricting process plays out.
Republicans control our state legislature and so control congressional redistricting. Because of the gerrymander in place, it is quite likely that the legislature will continue to be held by Republicans in 2021, even if Pennsylvania continues to trend toward the Democratic Party.
However, the our state legislators run in districts drawn by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Four legislators, two from each major party, sit on our legislative reapportionment commission. But the fifth member, the “swing vote,” is appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court if the other four members cannot come to agreement.
Any challenge to the 2021 redistricting under the one-man one-vote principle will inevitably go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for review. Even with a reform of the political redistricting method, such as S.B.484 submitted by Senator Boscola to substitute a citizen commission, all issues ultimately go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for a binding decision. Thus with Democratic judges in the majority on the court, the seeds of ultimate destruction of the present gerrymander are planted.
Moreover, if Democrats take over the legislature, it would be no more than human nature for them to develop a redistricting plan just as lopsided in their favor as the present plan is lopsided in favor of the Republicans.
So the Republicans who control the legislature now have every reason to adopt a fair process that is not likely to produce a highly political gerrymander in 2021.
As for the congressional districts, they are set every tenth year by a statute adopted by the legislature. So the Governor also has a role to play in signing or vetoing whatever bill is produced. If Governor Wolf earns a second term in office that would be his opportunity to work to level the playing field – or even tilt it his way, if he felt so inclined.
Thus there is plenty of reason for Pennsylvanians to continue to press for reform. What may be different now is that there is also plenty of reason for Republicans who control the General Assembly to join with Democrats to reform the flawed redistricting system.