The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a former GOP congressman’s challenge to a map of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House of Representatives districts adopted by the commonwealth’s Democrat-majority high court.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled in February 2022 to use a U.S. House district map that was more favorable to Democrats than the maps that were drawn up by the Republican-controlled state legislature. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court map to remain in effect for the 2022 elections.
Pennsylvania currently has 17 U.S. House districts, down one district after the state lost population in the 2020 census.
An appeal of the state Supreme Court’s February ruling was brought by former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), who argued that the U.S. Constitution limits the ability of state courts to interfere with maps or rules adopted by state legislatures for federal elections.
Costello, who served in the House from 2015 to 2019, asked that the Supreme Court take up the case alongside a similar one out of North Carolina it agreed in June to hear to “rein in the state judiciaries’ unconstitutional meddling in congressional redistricting decisions.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the map created by the Republican-controlled legislature, and claimed it was the result of a “partisan political process.”
The North Carolina case, like the Pennsylvania one, involves a map drawn by a Republican-led legislature that a state high court rejected in favor of a different, judicially endorsed redistricting plan.
‘We Will Have to Resolve This Question’
Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh wrote in March that the high court should move to decide whether state courts improperly took powers away from state lawmakers. But the court ultimately denied the Republican-led redistricting pleas in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“We will have to resolve this question sooner or later, and the sooner we do so, the better. This case presented a good opportunity to consider the issue, but unfortunately the court has again found the occasion inopportune,” Alito wrote in a dissent (pdf).
“That decision to rewrite the rules seems to have affected too few ballots to change the outcome of any federal election,” Thomas also wrote. “But that may not be the case in the future.”
Costello argued that under a separate federal law, Pennsylvania should be now required to hold at-large elections until the state’s congressional districts are redrawn in a manner he views as legal.
“In January of 2022, the Republican-led General Assembly approved a reasonable, non-gerrymandered map that would have created a 9-8 majority of Democratic-leaning congressional districts,” his lawyers wrote earlier this year.
That map, the former lawmaker said, “is more favorable to Democrats than the most likely outcome of 50,000 computer-drawn simulated maps that used no partisan data, which resulted in 8 Democratic-leaning seats and 9 Republican-leaning seats.”
But lawyers for Wolf and the state’s secretary of state in a brief had urged the justices to reject Costello’s petition, saying he failed to raise his arguments at the state court level and lacked legal standing to pursue the case.
The dispute is one of numerous legal battles in the United States over the composition of electoral districts, which are redrawn each decade to reflect population changes measured in a national census. In most states, such redistricting is done by the party in power, which can lead to map manipulation for partisan gain.
Following the 2020 presidential election, the Supreme Court also refused to issue an emergency stay on Pennsylvania’s election results after former President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers challenged the extension of the deadline for mail-in ballots. At the same time, Trump and members of his team alleged that fraud plagued the statewide election.
Also Monday, the Supreme Court rejected (pdf) several other cares, including a petition to reverse of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) ban on bump stock devices for semi-automatic rifles that went into effect in 2019.
Reuters contributed to this report.