This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA.

By Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s highest court will hear arguments today from lawyers for Gov. Tom Wolf, top lawmakers, and voters as it decides what the state’s congressional districts will look like for the next decade.

The state Supreme Court agreed to take over the highly consequential process in early February after a lower appellate judge held hearings on more than a dozen map proposals.

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough recommended the justices pick the map passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and rejected by Wolf, who called it “highly skewed.” The high court is not required to follow McCullough’s counsel and can pick one of the proposals, alter them, or draw a different map.

The court is working against the clock. Already, it has paused the primary election calendar and delayed the signature collecting process for candidates.

Pennsylvania is unable to use its current congressional map as the state lost one of its 18 seats due to sluggish population growth.

This is not the first time the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on the state’s congressional districts. In 2018, it threw out the map approved by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011, finding it to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Spotlight PA will have updates on the hearing throughout the day.

Last updated 11:30 a.m.

Senate Democrats

Clifford Levine, the counsel for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), said all of the submitted maps fulfill the baseline requirements outlined in the high court’s 2018 ruling.

But the justices in that case, he said, also emphasized the principles of responsiveness and partisan fairness, which measures whether a map is reflective of the partisan leaning of a state using a combination of metrics.

“It’s about having an equal opportunity to translate votes into equal representation,” said Levine.

Some justices pushed back on the map’s split of Pittsburgh, questioning why it was “absolutely necessary” and noting the plan is one of the least similar to the current map. Levine responded that the split may not be absolutely necessary, but is allowable in order to keep together communities of interest.

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R., Pa.)

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R., Pa.) submitted two maps, which prioritize minimizing county splits over other traditional criteria. His counsel argued that partisan fairness should not be a priority as it uses unstable metrics.

“Call it proportionality, call it responsiveness, call it partisan fairness,” said Matthew Haverstick, counsel for Reschenthaler. “I believe these are all code words for another way of saying gerrymandering.”

Haverstick also argued against maps with geographically large districts. One justice pushed back, saying, “It’s not geography, it’s people. I am sure that I have more people on my block in South Philadelphia than” in some counties.

Carter petitioners

The so-called Carter petitioners are a group of citizens who live in densely populated areas. They brought one of the two lawsuits asking the state courts to take over the congressional redistricting process.

Their proposed map, they say, is as similar as possible to the current congressional map, with 86% of residents staying in the same district. Matthew Gorden, their counsel, argued that this approach of “least change” should be valued over other considerations.

Gorden said the map was guided by that principle and not motivated by partisan intentions.

“We don’t have visibility into why most of the other maps ended up where they did,” he said. “We do for the Carter map.”

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