Pennsylvania’s new congressional card may soon be drawn by the same judge who gave then-President Donald Trump a rare victory in his doomed legal fight to reverse his defeat in 2020.
AND some of the state’s Democrats are privately critical of the strategy that got them there.
A group of Democrats, especially lawmakers who are likely to face tough re-elections, are questioning the decision of the party’s national redistricting strategists, including top-notch attorney Mark Elias, about their decision to start legal action in Pennsylvania last year, well before the mapping began.
To the surprise of Democrats this week, the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which would now give undue influence to the conservative lower court in determining new maps, rather than the Democratic-majority Supreme Court. court. Now, many Democrats in the House of Representatives fear that their party’s carefully crafted judicial strategy could potentially backfire by complicating an already confusing battle to redraw their state maps — even as Elias and his team insist there are no mistakes. It was.
“This is the first time I’m nervous about redistricting,” said one person closely associated with the Pennsylvania Democratic process, speaking on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the ongoing lawsuit.
Both Elias and the Democratic National Reconstituency Committee, which oversees the party’s legal efforts, said the lawsuits should first be filed in a lower, more conservative court. But tension between the state and national players on complex legal issues highlights how high the anxiety is in the state, which is the key to fading Democrats’ hopes of maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives.
“In any case, the case will go to the Commonwealth court,” Elias said, strongly defending this strategy. “I don’t know where their separation is.”
“We are all in litigation with these courts,” added Kelly Ward Burton, president of the NDRC, whose affiliate is involved in the lawsuit. According to her, the case should have started in a lower court. “And I think there’s still potential to get to [state] The Supreme Court, so I wouldn’t say we’re worried yet.”
The state legislature and the governor will almost certainly miss the unofficial January 24 deadline set by Pennsylvania’s election boards, leaving the conservative lower court in charge of choosing the card. But Elias pointed to a different date: the end of last month, citing statements from state officials that in order to open the application period in time in February, the card must be passed by the Legislature before the end of the year.
Concerned Democrats say the national group’s strategy could at least be worth the precious time and energy ahead of the midterm elections because it involved a lower conservative court. At worst, they say, it could endanger several key actors and result in Republicans winning the vast majority of the state’s congressional districts.
Much of the state’s congressional delegation, which convened Thursday night for a briefing on the latest developments, is unwilling to comment on the report until the map is completed. But privately, Democrats are annoyed this week after the state’s highest court refused to intervene in the mapping, shattering hopes they could avoid a bitter battle in a lower court.
Asked if she had concerns about the state Supreme Court not yet taking jurisdiction, Rep. Susan Wilde (D-Pennsylvania) said, “The whole redistricting is about us all.”
But Wilde and others refused to comment on the map or the lawsuit until it was final.
The fight for redistricting was so intense that several members of the House of Representatives, including Representatives Chrissy Holahan (D-Pennsylvania) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pennsylvania), raised the issue with Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, who now chairs the party committee. redistribution commission. Holahan and Dean pressured Holder during an unrelated call hosted by the New Democratic Coalition this week, according to several people familiar with the remarks.
Adding insult to injury, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough took on the case. McCullough is perhaps best known for giving Trump a brief legal victory in November 2020 when she ordered government officials to put a hold on the election confirmation process. (This decision was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.)
However, the NDRC frequently files pre-emptive lawsuits to prepare the courts to participate in advance of potential standoffs in divided government states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Waiting to go to court for relief only after deadlines have already been blown could speed up the line-drawing process – and it’s possible they could try to appeal directly to the state supreme court only to be told to go back to the Commonwealth Court.
Not all Democrats are predicting the worst, noting that the state Supreme Court can still step in if a lower court chooses or presents a card that the state Supreme Court dismisses as unfair. But it adds to tensions among an already nervous Democratic delegation as the state is already losing its seat this year and the delay in releasing census data has put them in even more time trouble.
Judicial standoff related to the divided government of Pennsylvania: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has veto power over any bill passed by the state legislature controlled by the Republican Party. The card is always likely to be decided in court, but some Democrats hoped it could go directly to the state’s liberal-minded Supreme Court. Three years ago, this body crossed out the map drawn by the Republicans of the past decade, changing the delegation from 13 Republicans and five Democrats to an equal one.
It is also especially year of high stakes for a closely divided state on the battlefield, with a competitive governor and Senate voting.
And while Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state has called for a congressional map to be finalized by January 24, few in the state believe it will be possible.
Instead, the lower court said it would choose its own card by the end of this month, leaving congressional candidates in agonizing uncertainty. Many expect key deadlines, such as the nomination date in March or the state primary in May, to be delayed unless an agreement is reached between Republicans in the state legislature and Wolff sooner.
There are few signs of compromise. On Wednesday, Republicans handed over a new map of Congress from the state House of Representatives. Wolf criticized like last month "the result of a deliberate choice of line in favor of Republican candidates."
House Democrats have invested in national redistricting strategy with severe litigation with the establishment of the Democratic National Redistricting Committee in 2017. Holder and former President Barack Obama put their star power to the effort, and the group filed lawsuits with Elias’ help challenging GOP-drawn and commission cards as unconstitutional.
Elias, who has represented prominent Democratic candidates for decades, has helped increase access to the vote ahead of the 2020 election. Since the election, he has been at the forefront of Democratic legal efforts to seal Biden’s victory. over 60 cases to close Trump’s challenge to the results.
The longtime lawyer has also worked on redistricting in dozens of states. This puts him in a uniquely high position and could make him the object of the wrath of legislators who await their fate in a once-in-a-decade process.
“It makes them nervous. I completely understand. They don’t have cards. They hit the deadline. It is not yet clear how the cards will be made,” Burton said of the Pennsylvania delegation.