Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday said he was still considering whether or not to submit a congressional map he considers fair to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as he and the other parties to the original League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth case face a Feb. 15 deadline to submit their preferred maps to the court to consider what cartography meets their definition of constitutional favorability.
“I haven’t decided (on whether to submit a map). As party to the litigation, I have standing to submit a map and, if I do, I’ll submit it by 5 p.m. tomorrow,” he said.
The announcement came following an event unrelated to the ongoing redistricting morass that saw the governor sign into law a bill that would alter the state’s lobbying disclosure law.
Despite GOP rancor relative to the governor’s reluctance to make public what he considers to be a fair map and not providing significant detail about what he considers to be particularly onerous about the map they submitted to him, the governor said Wednesday he has worked to ensure Pennsylvania has a fair congressional map by rejecting the Republican-crafted map submitted to him on Feb. 9.
Republican legislative leaders submitted a map in advance of the Feb. 9 deadline set out for them by the court, which Wolf rejected on Tuesday, calling it “another partisan gerrymander.”
“I rejected the map and, as far as I know, that was specifically what they asked me to do,” he said. “I’ve already done what the court has asked me to do in terms of judging and serving as the arbiter of whether the map that I got was fair.”
Regardless, the governor has said his office and retained expert do possess the actual ability to draw a congressional map that he considers fair, noting an elementary school class drew a map he considers “pretty fair.”
“I think elementary school students have the sophistication to draw a fair map," he said. "This is not something that takes a computer, it doesn't take a wizard, it takes someone who actually wants to do something fair."
In its initial order finding the 2011 congressional map unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court laid out a timeline for the political branches of government to produce a new, constitutional map.
That timeline the governor to submit an approved map sent to him from the Legislature by Feb. 15.
Due to legislative requirements, it is now impossible for the General Assembly to pass enactable legislation prior to that court-set deadline.
Thus, the court will select or produce a map from the evidentiary record compiled at the Commonwealth Court level with the help of its specially procured master, Nathan Persily, a Stanford Law School professor specializing in drawing legislative maps.
Parties to the original League of Women Voters case are permitted to submit their own maps of preference, but ultimately – unless an extension is granted to the political bodies – it will be the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issuing a map that will be used for the 2018 congressional election in Pennsylvania.
House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) argued Wednesday afternoon that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has taken extra-constitutional steps of assigning itself the power to draw or select a constitutional map, and by not accounting for the constitutionally provided amount of legislative time for the passage of legislation in their order.
Adding to the likelihood that a new congressional map will be chosen by the state’s high court, Gov. Wolf said he is not inclined to seek an extension of the timeline from the court in order to try to work out a negotiated product with the Legislature.
“I think they’ve given us a timeline, they’ve given us the rules and the constraints to operate under and I think that we ought to be honoring those constraints,” he said.
The Supreme Court has said a new map will be in place by Feb. 19.
In order to accommodate the ongoing issue, the Pennsylvania Department of State has pushed back the start of nominating petitions two weeks from its original date, now scheduled to begin for congressional candidates on Feb. 27.
The governor said Wednesday he has not yet determined whether or not to push back the date of the 2018 congressional primary election should the eventual map’s constitutionality be litigated.
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