HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers headed home Wednesday with two days left to comply with a court order in a gerrymandering case to redraw boundaries of the state’s 18 congressional districts as top Republican lawmakers hunkered down to figure out a plan.
Wednesday’s voting sessions were canceled amid the winter storm, and rank-and-file lawmakers awaited word from House Republican leaders over whether they would be recalled to Harrisburg to vote on new congressional district boundaries that they had not yet seen.
If a map is to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature by Friday’s deadline, the House must take a preliminary vote Thursday and a final vote Friday on the legislation before the Senate takes a final vote on the same legislation before the day ends.
Any redrawing of the boundaries is expected to make the districts less friendly to Republicans and give Democrats a boost as they try to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November’s election.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, declined an interview Wednesday, and a spokesman for House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, would only say that work on a map was ongoing. Neither Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office nor Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said they had heard from top Republicans about collaborating on a bipartisan product.
“The governor’s been clear about what he wants,” said press secretary J.J. Abbott. “We’re ready to review something and determine whether it’s fair.”
The state Supreme Court struck down the Republican-drawn district boundaries on Jan. 22. The boundaries, used in three straight elections going back to 2012, “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state constitution, the justices wrote in a 5-2 decision that broke along partisan lines, with Democrats in the majority.
As of Wednesday, House Republican leaders had not shown a plan to rank-and-file members or told rank-and-file members whether they had made a decision to bring a plan to a vote. Some rank-and-file Republicans said their leaders were working on a new map and were considering submitting it to Wolf by Friday’s deadline without bringing it to a vote in either chamber.
If he accepts the Republican product, Wolf must submit it to the court by Feb. 15.
The court gave lawmakers until this Friday to produce a replacement. Otherwise, the justices wrote, they would adopt a plan no later than Feb. 19, potentially one proposed by a party to the case, in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on schedule.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down Turzai and Scarnati’s request to halt the redrawing, although both men have suggested that they would file another legal challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court should the state Supreme Court put a new map into force.
Some House Republicans said they did not want the chamber to vote on a map and thus dignify a court-ordered process that they see as unconstitutional. Other House Republicans said they anticipated that Republican leadership would produce a plan for a vote.
The map has produced three straight elections of 13 Republicans to five Democrats in districts drawn to favor Republicans and so badly contorted they’ve inspired naming contests. The majority of statewide elected officials in Pennsylvania are Democrats, and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a 5-to-4 ratio.