League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a challenge to the state’s 2011 congressional district map. The challengers argue that the map is an extreme partisan gerrymander, in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free Expression and Association Clauses, as well as its Equal Protection guarantees and the Free and Equal Clause.
The challengers have proposed a judicially manageable test for identifying such gerrymanders, including evidence that social science metrics, such as the efficiency gap, show that the plan’s partisan skew is large and likely to remain throughout the decade regardless of the will of the electorate.
The map was drawn and enacted by a Republican-led legislature in a rushed process, excluding the public or Democratic legislators, and allowing no meaningful opportunities for input. In the first election under the map in 2012, Republicans won 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats despite winning only 49 percent of the popular statewide vote. In the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, Republicans were able to maintain this lopsided advantage, despite receiving only a slim majority of the total votes.
In its friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, CLC argues that Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered congressional map penalizes voters on the basis of their political views and the practice of gerrymandering nationwide is incompatible with a healthy democracy. CLC further argues that the challengers’ proposed test for identifying when a partisan gerrymander should be struck down is judicially manageable and easily applied by courts.
What’s at stake?
The Pennsylvania case is unique, because it challenges a map under the state Constitution, rather than the federal Constitution. This allows the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to set a standard for determining how much partisanship is too much, independent of any standard the U.S. Supreme may decide to put in place.
The risk that partisan gerrymandering poses to our democracy is intensifying over time. This is due to many factors, including technological advances. The practice, designed to entrench the party in power, undermines our republican form of government and causes citizens to lose faith in the accountability of democratic institutions. That is why CLC is litigating cases about partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and North Carolina as well.
Most importantly, citizens lose the capacity to change the institutions that are designed to represent them through elections. Democrats in Pennsylvania are essentially shut out of the political process due to the manipulation of congressional districts by the party in power. In order to restore fair representation to all citizens in Pennsylvania, this issue must be rectified by the courts.
On Jan. 22, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the Pennsylvania congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. A remedial plan was approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Feb. 19 and will be used for the 2018 congressional elections.