HARRISBURG — A Democratic justice’s comments critical of gerrymandering should require him to remove himself from a case challenging Pennsylvania’s congressional district map, Republican legislative leaders argued in a court filing on Friday.
The two leaders accused Supreme Court Justice David Wecht of bias and asked that he recuse himself or have the court invalidate his tie-breaking vote in November that put the case on a fast track.
“It is beyond obvious that his views concerning the drawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts had been formulated, cemented and expressed publicly long before the filing and adjudication of this case,” according to the filing by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who had leading roles in developing the 2011 map.
By a 5-2 vote on party lines, the justices last month found the congressional map violated the state constitution. They gave lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf three weeks to submit a replacement plan, after which the justices might draw up their own map.
Wecht cast a deciding vote in November, when the court issued a 4-3 decision to put the case on a fast track, a ruling that could result in new maps in time for this year’s congressional races.
The Republican leaders cited Wecht’s comments during his successful 2015 campaign that “gerrymandering is an absolute abomination,” it is “antithetical to the concept of one person, one vote,” and that the Republican domination of congressional races in the state can’t be explained “without partisan gerrymandering.”
Turzai and Scarnati also said another Democratic justice, Christine Donohue, was critical of gerrymandering during a campaign forum and should disclose any other related comments she has made.
Messages left for both justices at their chambers were not immediately returned.
Although Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans, and a generally winning record in recent statewide races, the GOP has prospered under the 2011 map, winning 13 of 18 seats in three consecutive election cycles.
Critics of the map say it has improperly diluted the power of Democratic votes. The map includes a district in the Philadelphia suburbs that has been described as resembling Goofy kicking Donald Duck.
Turzai and Scarnati also have a request pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has other redistricting cases pending before it, to put the Pennsylvania case on hold.
The voters who successfully challenged the Pennsylvania map argued in a filing before the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday that their case was decided based on the state constitution, so federal courts should give deference to the ruling.
“State courts have been enforcing state constitutions in the context of congressional redistricting for a century without any calamitous result or violation of federal law,” they argued.
Turzai and Scarnati sought the stay, the plaintiffs claimed, as “a ploy to preserve a congressional map that violates Pennsylvania’s constitution for one more election cycle.”