Filed Date: June 15, 2017
Closed Date: June 21, 2018
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This is a case about a constitutional challenge to Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional map. The plaintiffs, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and several registered Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, filed this suit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on June 15, 2017, against the State and the Pennsylvania legislature. The plaintiffs alleged that Republicans in the state legislature drew a congressional map that was politically gerrymandered in violation of the state constitution’s Free Expression; Association; and Free and Equal Elections Clauses because it had the purpose and effect of discriminating and retaliating against Democratic voters on the basis of their political views. As such, the plaintiffs asked for declaratory and injunctive relief as well as a court-drawn map in the event that the legislature could not create a constitutionally compliant map. The case was assigned to Judge P. Kevin Brobson.
On August 9, 2017, the defendants filed a motion to stay all proceedings in the case until the United States Supreme Court reached a decision in Gill v. Whitford, 138 S.Ct. 1916. The defendants argued that the Supreme Court’s decision could render the entire case moot if the Court held that gerrymandering issues were non-justiciable political questions. They also claimed that the decision would guide the Pennsylvania court in determining the governing standards to apply to gerrymandering cases that are alleged to be violations of the Equal Protection Clause. Finally, the defendants asserted that the delay a stay would cause would not prejudice the plaintiffs because they had already waited a substantial amount of time before bringing their claims. (The plan was enacted in 2011 and they did not bring this lawsuit until 2017.)
On October 16, 2017, Judge Dan Pellegrini granted the defendant’s motion and stayed all proceedings until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Gill v. Whitford. Judge Pellegrini seemingly agreed with the defendants’ arguments regarding the potential for mootness. Despite the stay, Judge Pellegrini did require the defendants to submit a brief laying out all of the claims of legislative privilege that they intended to use or could anticipate arising from the discovery process.
On October 11, 2017, the plaintiffs filed an application for extraordinary relief in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs urged the court to lift the stay so that the matter could be resolved in time for the 2018 elections. They explained that their lawsuit had been filed 10 months in advance of the election but that nothing substantive had been achieved in the lower court besides delay. The plaintiffs asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to exercise plenary jurisdiction over the case and issue an independent decision on the merits of their case.
On November 9, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s motion after determining that the case involved an issue of immediate public importance. The Supreme Court vacated the stay and remanded the case to the trial court with the requirement that they expedite the case and render their decision no later than December 31, 2017.
On December 29, 2017, the trial court issued its decision. The Court found that the plaintiffs established by a preponderance of the evidence that partisan considerations were evident in the 2011 map and demonstrated a preference for Republican candidates. They also found that using non-partisan methods to draw the map could result in districts that did not favor Republicans. However, the Court also found that the plaintiffs had not presented to the Court a judicially manageable standard by which the Court could determine whether the plan was gerrymandered in a way that violated the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted oral arguments on the same day that the Commonwealth Court issued their decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued their order on January 22, 2018. The court found that the 2011 act clearly violated the Pennsylvania Constitution and enjoined the defendants from using it in the 2018 elections. The court gave the legislature the option to present a constitutional redistricting plan to the Governor by February 9, and any signed plan to the court by February 15, 2018. If the legislature chose not to create their own plan, the court said it would proceed by adopting a plan based on the evidentiary record presented to the trial court. Specifically, any proposed plan was required to have compact and contiguous districts, as equal in population as possible, and not divide any municipality unless doing so would help to keep the populations even. The Executive Branch was put on notice that they could expect a new map by February 18, 2018, and should plan to modify or schedule upcoming elections appropriately. In their full majority opinion announced on February 7, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed its conclusion that the maps constituted an unconstitutional gerrymandering, reaching that conclusion under the Free and Equal Elections Clause. 645 Pa. 1.
On January 25, 2018, the defendants Michael Turzai, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and Joseph B. Scarnatti, Senate President, filed an emergency application for a stay pending appeal in the Supreme Court of the United States. The defendants argued that there was a reasonable probability that the SCOTUS would hear the case and render a decision on the merits contrary to the findings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That application for stay was denied on February 5, 2018.
On January 29, 2018, an additional application for an emergency stay was filed by 36 individuals who were registered as Republican voters in Pennsylvania. Their reasoning was similar to that of the previous application. They asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the proceedings until they rendered a decision in Gill v. Whitford and Benesik v. Lamone. The application claimed that the same issues of law were being decided in those two cases and would be controlling. That application was also denied on February 5, 2018.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania received proposed maps from the plaintiffs, defendants, intervenors, and several public interest groups leading up to February 15, 2018. The court adopted a plan on February 19, 2018. The legislature had failed to submit a timely proposal to the Governor, so the court proceeded to draw their own map that complied with constitutional requirements. The court acknowledged that their map was largely influenced by the plans submitted to them by the parties. The court paid specific attention to the compactness of the districts that were created. The defendants filed a motion to stay on February 22, 2018, and that motion was denied by the court on February 27, 2018.
On February 27, 2018, defendants Turzai and Scarnati submitted a new application for emergency stay to the U.S. Supreme Court. This time, the defendants argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s course of action violated the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The defendants claimed that the legislature was the sole authority to regulate state elections. The defendants objected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s imposition of population requirements and politically neutral redistricting, which they claimed was not constitutionally required. On March 19, 2018, this application was
Claire Butler (12/30/2022)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:31 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Pennsylvania
Filing Date: June 15, 2017
Closing Date: June 21, 2018
Case Ongoing: No
The plaintiffs are the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and several Pennsylvania residents who are registered Democratic voters.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Content of Injunction: