Pa. Supreme Court rejects legal challenges to state’s new legislative maps

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission publicly released the final state House and Senate maps in early February. (Matt Rourke/AP)

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission publicly released the final state House and Senate maps in early February. (Matt Rourke/AP)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

Pennsylvania’s highest court has affirmed the state’s new legislative district maps and rejected final legal challenges to them, clearing the way for their use in the May primary.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected nine challenges to maps drawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, a five-member panel composed of Pennsylvania’s top legislative leaders and an independent chair.

The high court also set a final primary calendar for state legislative candidates, allowing county election directors and political hopefuls to begin preparing for the election in earnest.

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The Legislative Reapportionment Commission publicly released the final state House and Senate maps in early February. While the upper chamber’s map is unlikely to radically alter the composition of its members, the state House map creates several additional seats that could be won by Democrats. Advocates for the map say that’s because it undoes decades of partisan gerrymandering and reflects changes in population that benefitted Democrat-heavy areas.

The panel passed the maps in a 4-1 vote, with only House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) voting against them.

He later filed one of the legal challenges against the final plan, claiming the state House map was drawn to benefit Democrats and that it infringed upon the Voting Rights Act by disregarding the traditional redistricting criteria outlined in the Pennsylvania Constitution and considering race as a dominant factor in redistricting.

“[The final map] subordinates the nonpartisan redistricting criteria for purely partisan purposes in doing so, it creates violence to the constitution,” Benninghoff said before voting against the final plan. “That is the very definition of the term gerrymandering. And frankly, it’s shameful.”

The panel’s nonpartisan Chair Mark Nordenberg, ex-chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, strenuously pushed back on Benninghoff’s claims, pointing to the House map’s superior scoring in the traditional criteria as compared to the current one.

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