The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering is a bad thing, and it’s going to stop in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The knee jerk response from some might be to say that the justices removed a perk for the ruling party in our legislature, since drawing the lines for the U.S. Congressional Districts could be done to favor one party or the other – the whole point of gerrymandering, of course.
As for the timing of this particular ruling, it is rather inconvenient for the 18th Congressional District, recently vacated by Tim Murphy and due for a special election in March. By May’s primary, the result of the special election will become meaningless, since the 18th District was gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.
Both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of gerrymandering U.S. Congressional districts over the years, so while the timing of this ruling isn’t advantageous for Republicans right now, it’s disingenuous to suggest that ending the practice is aimed specifically at Republicans. (We can revisit this if the court allows Democrats to re-draw the lines to their own advantage later.)
The current ruling requires that the lines be logically drawn, without splitting up counties or municipalities unless it’s absolutely necessary. In other words, district lines will theoretically overlap county and municipal lines throughout most of the Commonwealth, one way or another.
While the current ruling may very well have been influenced at least a little by a desire to break down some of the power of the Republican party in Pennsylvania, the long term result will likely cause political moderation in U.S. Congressional races. Running on a highly partisan platform for most seats simply won’t work anymore. Perhaps that will become an unintended consequence for the justices, but for the people of Pennsylvania, it will mean that they could end up largely above the hyper-partisan political fray on the national level. That is at least a little idealistic, but not impossible, since the voting populace of the Commonwealth has been generally moderate historically anyway. No matter what, removing the ability to draw U.S. Congressional districts from the pile of political perks for both Democrats and Republicans will hopefully ensure that candidates for the House will have to pay more attention to one thing they occasionally forget – the constituents they represent, regardless which party they happen to be registered with on their Voter ID cards.