On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Pennsylvania must redraw its Congressional maps this month. The maps have been held up as among the worst examples of partisan gerrymandering in the country.
The maps in question were drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011 after the 2010 U.S. Census, and signed into law by the then-Republican governor. Last June, the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania to invalidate the 2011 maps for violating the state’s constitution.
On January 22, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled that the Republican-controlled state legislature must redraw the state maps and submit them to Governor Tom Wolf for approval by this Friday. Wolf has until February 15 to approve the redrawn maps. If he vetoes the new maps, the state Supreme Court will redraw the maps themselves—with the help of a Stanford University law professor. On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito denied Pennsylvania Republicans’ emergency application to block the lower court’s ruling.
GOP lawmakers and secretaries of state have been trying their damnedest to stymie the state court’s ruling. First, they tried to delay the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court’s order to immediately redraw the maps until after the 2018 election—a request the court denied. Six Republican secretaries of state—from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and South Carolina—filed a joint amicus brief in the Pennsylvania case arguing that “there is no need to hurry” to correct the unconstitutional maps. Then, last week, Pennsylvania Senate president pro tempore Joseph Scarnati said he would defy a court order to turn over state and local map data to aid in the redrawing process.
Pennsylvania, along with states like North Carolina and Arizona, is a textbook example of partisan redistricting run amok. In 2012—after Pennsylvania Republicans redrew the Congressional district maps—Democrats won 50.5 percent of the vote, but won just 28 percent of the corresponding seats in Congress.
States are allowed to redraw their Congressional maps every ten years, after the U.S. Census has been taken. After the 2010 Census, Republicans were able to make 2012 the Great Gerrymandered Election. As the New York Times’ Sam Wang wrote at the time: “Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.”
(This is where I am required to say that Democrats have engaged in partisan redistricting in the past, too, in states like Maryland and Illinois. However, in context, comparing Democrats and Republicans’ commitment to voter disenfranchisement is like comparing a porpoise to a blue whale.)
Gerrymandering is just one weapon in Republicans’ arsenal aimed at eroding the tenet of “one person, one vote.” Other tactics Republicans have come to rely on include purging voter rolls in states like Ohio, Florida and Indiana, and restrictive voter ID laws. A study from the Democrat-aligned Priorities USA found that as many as 200,000 Wisconsinites’ votes were suppressed during the 2016 presidential election as a result of the state’s voter ID laws championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. (Donald Trump won Wisconsin, a state that had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, by fewer than 23,000 votes.)
This is why the Census in 2020 is so crucial, and why Republicans are already dreaming up new ways to rig it in their favor. Last month, the Trump administration announced it would appoint Thomas Brunell as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Brunell, a Republican political science professor with no prior government experience, wrote the book on partisan gerrymandering. No, seriously: in 2008, Brunell wrote a book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.” All this points toward Republicans’ next play: politicizing the Census for their electoral gain.
Republicans in states like Pennsylvania are showing that on some level, they know the clock is running out. They know that they wouldn’t hold nearly as much power as they do today, given a full and fair accounting of Americans’ votes. They know they need gerrymandering to win. They know they need voter disenfranchisement to win. They know they need the Electoral College to win. Conservatives—at least the smart ones—know that, if and when the clock runs out, the judiciary will be their last true bastion of political power.
Republicans at the state and national level have shown that, no matter how much they may espouse their devotion to the beautiful, glorious United States Constitution, they will shamelessly ratfuck its core tenets if it helps them retain political power. Monday’s ruling for Pennsylvania is a good start, but we have a long way to go before the sins of partisan redistricting will be reversed, if they ever completely are.