House Democrats get a fair shot at picking up Pennsylvania seats

A closer look at the new congressional districts for Philadelhpia and its surrounding suburbs (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

A closer look at the new congressional districts for Philadelhpia and its surrounding suburbs (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

I wish to thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for providing a solid reason not to write today about the Trumpster fire.

It’s not sexy to talk about the nuts and bolts of politics, but the overhaul of Pennsylvania’s Republican-rigged congressional map is a major development that could help tilt the balance of power in the U.S. House. Democrats can take the chamber in November if they swing 24 seats nationwide, and the new, fairer map on tap for Pennsylvania could net them as many as 6. If the Democrats were to take the House, Trump’s legislative agenda (or what passes for an agenda) would be dead, and substantive House probes of his historic corruption would be alive.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Just because Pennsylvania’s highest court threw out the Republican-rigged map (which has typically awarded Republicans 13 of the 18 House seats, despite drawing as little as 49 percent of statewide votes), and just because the high court ruled that the Republican map violated the state constitution’s fair-election guarantee, and just because — yesterday — the high court issued a new map that junks the GOP’s gerrymandering and gives Democrats a fair shot to win more seats … well, we need only quote Yogi Berra, who supposedly said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

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The new congressional map faces last-ditch resistance from the state Republicans who cheated in the first place — the same folks who drew crazy boundaries and chopped up counties to maximize GOP voters and disperse Democratic voters, the same people whose gerrymandered map became a national laughingstock. They contended yesterday, in predictably Orwellian fashion, that the state’s highest court has created “a constitutional crisis,” and that Republicans will pursue “further action in federal court” to stop this “ultimate partisan gerrymander.” (One of the Republican complainants is state House Speaker Mike Turzai, who bragged during the 2012 presidential race that the GOP’s photo ID voter-suppression law “is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state.”)

And today Trump weighed in with a tweet: “Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct!”

Actually their “Original” was a flagrant breach of the state constitution, which guarantees that elections be “free and equal.” As the Pennsylvania high court pointed out, House elections aren’t “free and equal” when boundaries are rigged to give one party 13 of 18 seats (72 percent) when that party draws no more than 50 percent of the statewide votes. According to the majority ruling, the state constitution “provides the people of this Commonwealth an equally effective power to select the representative of his or her choice, and bars the dilution of people’s power to do so.”

Those are way too many words for Trump to fathom. And when he says that the Republicans should challenge the new map “all the way to the (U.S.) Supreme Court,” I bet he doesn’t know that the Republicans have already gone that route and failed. They asked the Supreme Court  to save their rigged map, but on Feb. 5, Justice Samuel Alito (who handles emergency requests) swatted them away without even saying why. But his reason was obvious. This was a state decision based on a state constitution, not a federal matter.

So it would appear that the GOP’s appeal options are limited. As election-law expert Rick Hasen’s blog points out, it’s “a super long shot” to launch “a collateral attack” on a state supreme court decision by taking it to the federal bench. He says, “It is hard to see where Republicans go from here to successfully fight” the new map, because the principle of “federalism” makes such a challenge “extremely hard.” (I’ll simply add that “federalism” — respect for state sovereignty — is supposed to be a hallowed Republican concept.)

The GOP’s best long shot is to find a federal judge who could put the new map on ice until 2020. Otherwise, the new map — which features compact contiguous districts, not nutty contortions twisting hither and yon — will likely put the Philadelphia suburbs in play for the Democrats. That’s the most important development. The GOP-gerrymandered 7th district (“Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”) appears to be history, for instance. And new boundaries aside, suburban women are ginned up to reject anyone tied to Trump’s party, which could prove to be more pivotal.

This is assuming, of course, that Vladimir Putin’s bots don’t have a free hand to twist the midterms. We should note that his western branch manager still hasn’t signaled any interest in fighting back. Trump’s sole weapon is to tweet more nonsense — for instance, this gem earlier today: “I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!”

This guy feels the walls closing in, and probably expects Mexico to pay for them.

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