Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a new congressional district map after ruling the old, Republican-drawn map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered last month.
Gerrymandering is the drawing of state district lines to provide an unfair partisan advantage to one party or group.
Previously, Main Campus was primarily located in the 2nd Congressional District, with some of it located in the 1st District.
In the new map, Main Campus is almost completely located in the 2nd District. The boundary line between the new 2nd and 3rd districts runs down a stretch of Broad Street, with the west part of campus falling in the 3rd District.
The new map will go into effect in May after the special election to fill the 18th District seat.
State Supreme Court justices said they wanted the new map to be more fair, with compact districts split into fewer municipalities, NPR reported.
The old map, which was drawn by Republican legislators in 2011, was ruled to have “strange, sprawling” districts aimed at giving the party an advantage in statewide elections, The Washington Post reported. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the map be redrawn after the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the state in June 2017.
In a 139-page opinion published this month, the justices ruled that the old Republican-drawn map “aimed at achieving unfair partisan gain.” The justices wrote that gerrymandered mapping “undermines voters’ ability to exercise their right to vote in free and ‘equal’ elections, if the term is to be interpreted in any credible way.”
Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the new map, and also said they plan to fight the new map by suing in federal court.
David Nickerson, a political science professor who led the analytics team for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, said having fewer and more concentrated districts should give people registered to vote near Main Campus more influence in elections.
Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said there should be a conversation about whether the state’s Supreme Court justices should be impeached because he believes the new districts benefit Democrats, The Hill reported.
“I think state House members and state senators are going to be speaking amongst themselves and their constituents,” Toomey told The Hill. “The fundamental question is does this blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process, does that rise to the level of impeachment?”
If Republicans decide to try to impeach or remove Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices from office, it will likely backfire, Nickerson said.
“If you look at the prior map, drawn primarily by the Republican state legislature, it was very convoluted with long, strangely shaped districts,” he added. “The new Pennsylvania Supreme Court map has much more compact districts that look much more normal to the average voter.”
When the justices drew the map, they considered where members of each party clustered across the state.
“In Pennsylvania, so many Democrats are concentrated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, so no matter how you draw the lines, it is going to benefit them,” Nickerson added. “Republicans still get more seats than they do votes on average under this new map.”
The seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned based on state population, which is reevaluated every 10 years with the U.S. Census. Larger states with bigger populations have more representative seats. Pennsylvania has 18 seats in the House.
It is hard to predict if the new map will get overturned because the Supreme Court has a number of gerrymandering cases on its plate, Nickerson said
“Given the makeup of the justices, it is entirely possible they could overrule the state Supreme Court,” Nickerson added. “That depends on how cynical you are about the court, and whether the justices are just political or if they execute the law.”
Both parties have said that the new districts essentially ensure that Democrats will win several new U.S. House seats in the upcoming midterm elections this November, according to New York Magazine.
“The Republicans could lose a majority of the votes, because they don’t have the vast majority of the seats in the elections because of the gerrymandering,” Nickerson said. “The state Supreme Court shifted it so that the imbalance is not as high. But mostly, the map benefits Democrats by trying to remove the excesses of gerrymandering.”
Some students think the newly drawn congressional districts are an improvement from the old map.
Daniel Raeder, a first-year urban education and education policy graduate student, said he is optimistic about how the new districts will change national and state politics.
“I think that they’re great in the sense that it’s a response to really aggressive and regressive tactics by the Republican legislature to control the state and outcomes,” Raeder said.
Alexa Manko, a freshman public health major, said the new map is good for Pennsylvania.
“I know it will turn some seats in legislation in Congress, which is a good thing because I don’t like Trump,” Manko said. “I’m originally from Pittsburgh, so I know that our district has been all messed up for a while. My district was very red, but now it’s blue, which is nice.”