|For Immediate Release
February 23, 2022
Contact: Kirstin Snow
Statement of PA Budget and Policy Center on PA Supreme Court Decision on Congressional Maps
by Marc Stier
There are two critical requirements of a congressional redistricting plan: it does not favor one party or another, and it allows shifts in voters’ choices to be reflected in who is elected to Congress. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s choice of a congressional map meets both standards. In a state with a small Democratic edge in registration, seven of the 17 districts lean Democratic, while six lean Republican. And four districts—1, 7, 8, and 17—are competitive. If voters in the state tilt toward the Democrats, Democrats are likely to hold a majority of the Pennsylvania seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. If the voters tilt Republican, Republicans are likely to do so. In addition to allowing shifts in political opinion to change the composition of Congress, competitive districts also help ensure that representatives are responsive and accountable to all voters, rather than to the extreme members of their own party.
At a time when our democracy is under attack from many directions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has done an admirable job in defending it.
One implicit part of the Court’s decision should be noted. The Court apparently rejected the Republican claim that the congressional maps should heavily tilt toward Republican because of the “natural political geography” of the state, that is, the tendency of Democrats to live together in urban areas. This argument is found in Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough’s opinion recommending the House Republican plan for congressional districts as well as in state Representative Kerry Benninghoff’s lawsuit rejecting the legislative maps chosen by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC).
It is good to see this argument rejected for there is no such thing as “natural political geography.” That Democrats tend to live together in urban areas is a product not of individual choices but of a long history of public policy that has led to the flight of a disproportionately white middle class from our cities to the suburbs leaving a concentration of disproportionately Black, poor, and working-class people in our cities. Those public policies include transportation infrastructure that encouraged white flight; redlining, which undermined urban neighborhoods and limited the ability of Black people to accumulate wealth; racist deed covenants that, until recently, blocked Black people from moving to the suburbs; and zoning laws that make it difficult to build low-income housing in the suburbs.
Given this history, there is a strong case to be made that not only the Pennsylvania Constitution but the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act requires that the political mapmakers make an effort to draw lines that minimize rather than recognize any so-called “natural” Republican political advantage. This would go a long way in ensuring that voters in urban communities, and especially Black and Latino voters, are able to elect legislators who represent them, not just by being packed into small districts that overwhelmingly elect Democrats but by being spread into a larger number of districts where they can form coalitions with other voters to elect legislators who will represent their interests.
New research shows that breaking down racial segregation—which has been increasing, not decreasing, in recent years—is a key to reducing partisan division based on race. We have a long way to go in addressing racial segregation, but a good first step is to draw legislative districts that encourage Black and white people to work together politically. That is what the Supreme Court’s congressional maps and LRC’s state House district maps have done. We should applaud them for that work.