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Court Case

League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

The League of Women Voters and a group of Democratic Pennsylvania voters filed a lawsuit to challenge Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution.

Published: October 29, 2018

Case Background

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and a group of Democratic Pennsylvania voters filed suit on June 15, 2017 to have the state’s 2011 congressional map invalidated as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution.

The plaintiffs alleged that the plan discriminated against Democratic voters in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free Expression and Association Clauses (Art. I, §§ 7, 20), Equal Protection Guarantees (Art I, §§ 1, 26), and Free and Equal Clause (Art I, §5). The plaintiffs also asked the court to enjoin the Pennsylvania General Assembly from considering political data, including party membership, registration, affiliation, political activities, in drawing future maps if such use would penalize or burden a group or individual voters based on their political beliefs.

After the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania granted the General Assembly’s application to stay all proceedings pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gill v. Whitford, the plaintiffs filed an application with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking that the court assume extraordinary jurisdiction over the case to ensure a resolution in time for the 2018 elections. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ application and ordered the Commonwealth Court to hold trial in the case.

On January 22, 2018 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the 2011 congressional map as unconstitutional and enjoined the map for 2018 elections. The court ordered that the General Assembly submit a new congressional plan to the court with the governor's approval by February 15. The court also appointed Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily to advise the court regarding a remedial plan.   

The legislative defendants filed an application for stay of the court's order and filed an emergency application for stay at the U.S. Supreme Court. Both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Justice Alito denied the legislative defendants' applications for stay.

On February 13, Governor Tom Wolf rejected the congressional map proposed by Republican legislative leaders because it did not comply with either the Court’s January 22 order or the state constitution. Because the legislature and the governor did not agree on a map, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new congressional map, which it directed be used in the 2018 elections. 

On February 22, Pennsylvania legislative leaders filed an application asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to stay its ruling. The court denied the legislative leaders' application for stay on February 27. The legislative leaders then filed a second application for stay at the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 19, the Supreme Court also denied the legislative leaders' application for stay. 

The court-drawn map is in effect for the 2018 midterm elections. The court closed the case following its final order.

On June 21, Pennsylvania legislative leaders filed a petition for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court, appealing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to adopt a remedial map. On October 29, the Supreme Court denied their petition for certiorari. 

Documents

Commonwealth Court (original action)

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (request for extraordinary relief)

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (on removal) 

Commonwealth Court (on instruction from Supreme Court of Pennsylvania)

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (merits briefing)

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (remedial plan process)

U.S. Supreme Court (January 2018 stay motions)

Turzai v. League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (17-A-795)

McCann v. League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (17-A-802) 

U.S. Supreme Court (February 2018 stay motion) 

Turzai v. League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (17-A-909)

U.S. Supreme Court (June 2018) 

Turzai v. Brandt