Pennsylvania’s 2018 congressional primary season is now in limbo after the left-leaning state supreme court ordered a new congressional map far more favorable to Democrats and Republicans take the issue to court, arguing the decision is in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the congressional district map was excessively partisan and, therefore, unconstitutional. The court gave the GOP-led legislature just days to present a new map. If Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf rejected the map, the court said it would draw the new map, which is exactly what happened.
Republicans are now taking the issue to court. Time is of the essence, with the 2018 primaries scheduled for May 15.
Under the previous map, Republicans won 13 of 18 House seats. With the new district lines, experts believe Democrats to have a good chance of winning 11 or 12 seats this year.
In 2016, GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus won re-election with 62 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. He is now being assigned to a district that would have been carried by Hillary Clinton two years ago.
Rothfus says the state supreme court vastly overstepped its bounds.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took a part of the federal U.S. Constitution and put it in the shredding machine. The Constitution is clear. The federal Constitution says state legislatures are responsible for setting the time, place, and manner of elections for senators and representatives.
“This is not the job of a state supreme court. It is not the job of a state. It expressly says that’s the job of the state legislature. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took an unprecedented move and demanded that the state legislature, frankly in two days, come up with a new map. They did not issue their official opinion until two days before their deadline,” said Rothfus.
Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.”
In addition, Rothfus says the Pennsylvania already addressed this issue last decade.
“These issues with respect to congressional districts were litigated 15 years ago, almost the identical case. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court at that time did not think that this was a cause of action,” said Rothfus.
He also says Democrats did not have a problem with the map the GOP-led legislature drew up for the 2012 cycle and beyond.
“My Democrat predecessor, Jason Altmire, actually was on record in 2012, saying that the seat that I was in was fair and contiguous. You had a bipartisan majority of the state legislature, back in 2012, approve this map,” said Rothfus
Rothfus and other GOP critics of the decision are also furious that the court did not actually draw the new map.
“You had four people (out of seven) on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decide that they should go with a new map, drawn not by a person from Pennsylvania but from a Stanford University law professor thousands of miles away, trying to project his will on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as opposed to the will of the legislature,” said Rothfus.
It is common to accuse judges of partisanship or judicial activism when legal decisions on political cases do not go one’s way, but the political bent of the court is an open fact.
“We have elections in Pennsylvania for our state supreme court. A couple years ago, the Democrats had a sweep,” said Rothfus, who thinks this verdict ought to trigger a closer look at those judicial campaigns.
“We need to take a hard look at what was going on in that election. Were some of these candidates making statements about redistricting, about gerrymandering. There is a suggestion that at least one of them did, in which case that person should have been recused from this case to begin with,” said Rothfus.
With primary elections scheduled for just over 10 weeks from now, Republicans are headed to federal court to have the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision reversed.
“We have sought relief from the federal courts to protect the prerogatives of the state legislature as defined in the U.S. Constitution,” said Rothfus.
Rothfus says the GOP map allowed for Democrats to be competitive in a number of districts.
“These districts can be competitive with the right kind of candidates. Western Pennsylvania tends to be more conservative. They look for Democrats who are conservative. But when the national party has gone so far to the left, so extreme, that’s what makes their candidates unacceptable.
“They only way they can win elections is if they themselves do gerrymandering, and that’s what’s happened in this case,” said Rothfus.
Regardless of how the fight over the map turns out, Rothfus will be running for re-election this year. He says he’s got a record he’s proud to take before the voters.
“We have to be very aggressive with our message. We have a very positive message to talk about with the tax cuts and how that’s bringing the economy back to life, about (killing) Washington regulations that have been crushing jobs, crushing wages. This is a district we are going to be very competitive in,” said Rothfus.
“The way you win elections is to campaign on ideas. That’s what we did. That’s how I won in 2012 and that’s how we’re going to continue to win in the future,” said Rothfus.