Corman v. Torres
Corman v. Torres is a lawsuit in federal court that attempts to prevent Pennsylvania elections officials from implementing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision that struck down the state’s extreme partisan gerrymander.
About the case
Earlier this year, in League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (“LWVP”), Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional map as an extreme partisan gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution. The unconstitutional map featured one of the country’s worst partisan gerrymanders and made it virtually impossible for Pennsylvanians to send a representative congressional delegation to Washington. The state Supreme Court found that politicians had drawn the map with precision to favor the Republican Party and disfavor Democratic Party voters. This, the Court held, violated the state constitutional guarantee that “Elections shall be free and equal,” since maps designed to favor one party over another are inherently unequal.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the state legislature and the governor to agree on a new map, but the legislature proposed a map that was an even more extreme partisan gerrymander and the governor declined to endorse it. As a result, the Court turned to a nationally recognized redistricting expert to draw a new map, which eliminates the partisan gerrymander and reflects the political makeup of Pennsylvania’s voters.
Now in Corman, Republican state legislators and members of Congress are suing in federal court to reinstate their gerrymander – even though it violates the state Constitution. In spite of the fact that most state constitutions have provisions that limit politicians’ ability to gerrymander however they wish, the plaintiffs in this case claim that the federal Constitution does not allow Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court to enforce the state Constitution in this context. Moreover, they claim that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s new map is a partisan gerrymander in favor of Democrats.
CLC has filed a friend-of-the-court brief explaining that this last claim is simply untrue. CLC’s brief clarifies that the new map is not only fairer than the unconstitutional gerrymander, but also fair on its own merits. The brief looks at several different statistical metrics, each of which confirms that the new map exhibits partisan symmetry, or the equal ability for each party to translate votes into congressional seats.
What’s at stake
LWVP was a momentous decision for Pennsylvanians. Since 2012, they had been forced to vote in three congressional election cycles under an unconstitutional map. LWVP finally ensured that all Pennsylvanians would have the opportunity to fairly choose their representatives in Congress. Corman seeks to undo that and once again allow politicians to choose their own voters.
Moreover, the Corman decision has nationwide implications. Most states have constitutional provisions that define how districts should be drawn, which poses some limit to politicians’ ability to gerrymander, even if that limit is insufficient. If the Corman plaintiffs win, their theory would severely limit state courts’ ability to interpret state constitutions in a way that curbs gerrymandering. As politicians have become more brazen than ever in their unfair map-drawing, this theory would undermine a key way to ensure that Americans everywhere have a fair opportunity to vote for their preferred representatives, rather than having those representatives choose their preferred voters.