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SCOTUS Ends One Partisan Gerrymandering Battle; More Remain

May 30, 2018, 3:19 PM

Pennsylvania voters challenging GOP-friendly congressional districts were booted out of the U.S. Supreme Court May 29.

The court’s one-sentence order dismissing their case as moot was the latest in the battle over Pennsylvania’s 18-member congressional district, which Democrats hope will help flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court didn’t explain its reason for dismissing the case. But it comes on the heels of a parallel state supreme court decision finding that the process was unconstitutionally stacked against Democrats, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an election law professor at Stetson University College of Law, Gulfport, Fla., told Bloomberg Law.

The state high court redrew a new map that will be used for the 2018 mid-term elections. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to disrupt that ruling March 19.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision gave the voters everything they wanted, Pennsylvania legislators told the Supreme Court in urging them not to take up the case. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, agreed with the Republican lawmakers that the case was moot.

But the plaintiffs argued that the state supreme court decision wasn’t enough. In “filing this case, plaintiffs sought a court-approved neutral process for drawing a map—now and in the future,” the voters told the court. Instead, all they have now is a “court-approved neutral map.”

The Supreme Court, however, didn’t agree.

Perplexing Question

The decision comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is itself trying to determine whether courts can properly police partisan gerrymandering.

It’s a question that has perplexed the court for three decades. In two cases before the court this term—one out of Wisconsin, the other out of Maryland—the justices are looking to finally sort it out.

Given that the “Supreme Court’s term is drawing to a close,” the answer could come imminently, Torres-Spelliscy said. She noted that “many states are already gearing up for the redistricting process” following the 2020 census.

‘Relaxed’ Definition

The Supreme Court’s May 29 decision to dismiss the Pennsylvania case as moot was a bit odd, Derek Muller, an election law professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, Malibu, Calif., told Bloomberg Law.

The court’s definition of moot—that it’s too late to provide effective relief—seems “relaxed” here because there is still something the court can do, Muller said in a tweet.

Even though the state supreme court has already drawn a new map, a federal court can “order relief if a state supreme court acted inappropriately,” he said.

That’s exactly what Republican lawmakers are asking a three-judge district court panel to do in a separate case filed after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, Corman v. Torres.

The lawmakers contend that the state supreme court’s decision striking down the map and issuing “its own replacement map violates the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution,” the Corman court explained. The lawmakers want the court to prohibit the executive from using the court-drawn map and reinstate the now-defunct one.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at