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Pennsylvania Proposes New Districts


A few minutes on gerrymandering now. In Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court says that congressional district boundaries favor Republicans and, quote, "plainly and palpably violate the state's constitution," the court gave the legislature until yesterday to redraw the maps. But the deadline came and went.

Emily Previti has been covering the back-and-forth from member station WITF in Harrisburg and joins us now. Emily, thanks so much for being with us.

EMILY PREVITI, BYLINE: It's great to be here, Scott.

SIMON: So let me put it this way - what didn't happen on Friday?

PREVITI: So the legislature did not pass a map as it typically would. Just like any other bill, it didn't, you know, go through both houses. Instead, the leadership in the state General Assembly collaborated on a map, signed it and turned it over to the governor. So that's normally not what happens, and it doesn't appear that the court contemplated this chain of events in its ruling. And it's unclear whether the court will accept this as having met the deadline or whether they will consider it blown. If they consider the deadline having not been met, then the court takes over the process.

SIMON: Let's remind our listeners that the case went not just to the state Supreme Court but the U.S. Supreme Court, where it figured along with a number of gerrymandering cases.

PREVITI: Right. There are cases from Wisconsin and Maryland that are docketed right now with the U.S. Supreme Court. Pennsylvania Republican leadership tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay in this case, but they were denied. It's still an interesting case because it is the first time that a state court has overturned a congressional map simply because they say it's an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. And Pennsylvania has a reputation for being one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in the country by a host of different quantitative measures.

But probably the simplest way to explain that is if you look at the number of votes that were cast for Republican congressional candidates statewide during the last three congressional elections, in one case, Republicans didn't even get half of votes. In the other two elections, they received just over half - no more than 55 percent. But in every election, they won 13 of 18 seats. That's more than 70 percent. So that gives an idea of something being potentially out of whack.

SIMON: Well, there's an election coming in November. Will the state have new boundaries?

PREVITI: That is the court's intention with its ruling. Although, even if the court considers this deadline for the legislature blown, they've put in place a process by which they choose the map from the court record to be evaluated or tweaked by their own expert, who they have retained. But if the Republicans decide to try to pursue further legal action - a different challenge, which they've hinted at - then that could disrupt the process, as well. And maybe Pennsylvania won't end up with a new map.

SIMON: The state has to kind of have legislative boundaries in place so that people will know where they're running for office, right?

PREVITI: Yeah. Congressional candidates are in limbo right now. They don't know what to tell donors who may be saying, I'm not sure if I want to contribute yet. You know, I don't know if you'll be running in my district in a few months.

SIMON: Emily Previti, WITF - part of the Keystone Crossroads reporting collaborative there in Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for being with us.

PREVITI: Thanks very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Previti is WITF's reporter for , a statewide public media collaboration focused on issues facing Pennsylvania's cities.