I don’t want to say “we told you so” but …we told you so! In the weeks leading up to last Tuesday’s election, Indivisible Berks and other local groups like Berks Progressive Volunteers and Fair Districts Berks tried to impress on voters how important it was to carefully evaluate candidates in judicial races. To their peril, voters (this one included), often don’t give these seats the attention they deserve. Some recent court cases underscore why judicial races are so important.
Take Sallie Mundy for example. Mundy was appointed by Governor Wolf in June of 2016 to fill the PA Supreme Court seat vacated by Michael Eakin, who resigned due to an ethics inquiry. Mundy’s term was due to expire December 31 of this year. To remain in the seat, Mundy was required to stand for partisan election. Tradition has it that interim judges, such as Mundy, don’t run following an appointment. For whatever reason Governor Wolf put tradition aside when appointing Mundy saying she didn’t have to promise not to run. She ran unopposed in the Republican primary and went on to defeat Dwayne Woodruff on November 7th. Her term will last until 2027, and by the way, Mundy was endorsed by the NRA’s Political Victory Fund in 2009.
Why am I harping on this you ask? On Thursday Nov 9, the PA Supreme Court ruled in a suit brought by the Public Interest Law Center on behalf of the League of Women Voters and individuals from each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts.
Here’s what their lawsuit asserts:
“Our lawsuit contends that in 2011 Pennsylvania elected officials manipulated the congressional district boundaries to entrench a majority Republican delegation in Congress and minimize the ability of Democratic voters to elect U.S. House representatives. Filed in the state’s Commonwealth Court, the complaint alleges the current congressional map was designed to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into Pennsylvania’s 1st, 2nd, 13th, 14th and 17th districts. At the same time, the map was designed to spread the remaining Democratic voters among the other 13 districts so that Democratic voters fall short of a majority in each of these 13 districts. The net effect maximizes the number of Pennsylvania congressional seats held by Republicans.”
PA Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-28) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) sought to delay the above lawsuit citing ongoing litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts. (see our post in July: Salamanders and Strange Bedfellows) Turzai and Scarnati argued that since the Wisconsin case was similar, the state level League of Women Voters case should be put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. On Thursday, the PA Supreme Court overruled Turzai and Scarnati’s challenge in a 4-3 decision. One of the 3 dissenting votes was cast by none other than Sallie Mundy.
The League of Women Voters suit is only one of two court cases regarding gerrymandering going on at the state level in PA. The second case has to do with Speaker Turzai and Senate President Scarnati who were ordered on November 9 to turn over any communications they or their aides had with REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project). A federal judge in Philadelphia has given them a week to turn over the communications and any information they used to draw the maps after the 2010 census.
“The federal judge's order said the ‘legislative privilege’ that Scarnati and Turzai had asserted ‘is a qualified privilege that may be pierced and which at a minimum does not shield communications with third parties associated with REDMAP nor protect facts and data considered in connection with redistricting.” She said they must also produce documents from 2009-2012 over which they are not claiming any type of privilege.”
What is REDMAP?
If you're not familiar with REDMAP, it's time you're introduced since REDMAP has been getting very familiar with Pennsylvania. REDMAP or the Redistricting Majority Project is a plan engineered by Karl Rove and others after the 2010 census to redraw electoral maps in key states in order to shift the balance of power to Republican control. Rove very blatantly laid out the plan in a Wall Street Journal column back in 2010. The subheading to Rove’s article read, "He who controls redistricting can control Congress." The plan is working out very well given that Republicans control nearly two-thirds of state legislatures in the U.S. despite losing to Democrats in overall vote tallies.
Below is some language taken directly from REDMAP’s website, which underscores how direct, focused, and frankly undemocratic their efforts have been:
Republicans have an opportunity to create 20-25 new Republican Congressional Districts through the redistricting process over the next five election cycles, solidifying a Republican House majority.
On November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was reelected President of the United States by nearly a three-point margin, winning 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 while garnering nearly 3.5 million more votes. Democrats also celebrated victories in 69 percent of U.S. Senate elections, winning 23 of 33 contests. Farther down-ballot, aggregated numbers show voters pulled the lever for Republicans only 49 percent of the time in congressional races, suggesting that 2012 could have been a repeat of 2008, when voters gave control of the White House and both chambers of Congress to Democrats.
But, as we see today, that was not the case. Instead, Republicans enjoy a 33-seat margin in the U.S. House seated yesterday in the 113th Congress, having endured Democratic successes atop the ticket and over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.
However, all components of a successful congressional race, including recruitment, message development and resource allocation, rest on the congressional district lines, and this was an area where Republicans had an unquestioned advantage.
Today, nearly two months after Election Day, and one day after the 113th United States Congress took the Oath of Office on Capitol Hill, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) is releasing this review of its strategy and execution of its efforts in the 2010 election cycle to erect a Republican firewall through the redistricting process that paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.
Here’s how REDMAP began to execute their plan:
As the 2010 Census approached, the RSLC began planning for the subsequent election cycle, formulating a strategy to keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on congressional redistricting as a result of reapportionment. That effort, the REDistricting MAjority Project (REDMAP), focused critical resources on legislative chambers in states projected to gain or lose congressional seats in 2011 based on Census data.
The rationale was straightforward: Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn. Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.
To fund the initiative, the RSLC raised more than $30 million in 2009-2010, and invested $18 million after Labor Day 2010 alone.
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races, targeting and winning three of the toughest races in the state. (-1 Congressional seat).
A REDMAP target state, the RSLC spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races in 2010 – an expenditure that helped provide the GOP with majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Combined with former Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett’s victory in the gubernatorial race, Republicans took control of the state legislative and congressional redistricting process. The impact of this investment at the state level in 2010 is evident when examining the results of the 2012 election: Pennsylvanians reelected a Democratic U.S. Senator by nearly nine points and reelected President Obama by more than five points, but at the same time they added to the Republican ranks in the State House and returned a 13-5 Republican majority to the U.S. House.
REDMAP’s effect on the 2012 election is plain when analyzing the results: Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates than their Republican opponents, but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington;
Nationwide, Republicans won 54 percent of the U.S. House seats, along with 58 of 99 state legislative chambers, while winning only 8 of 33 U.S. Senate races and carrying only 47.8 percent of the national presidential vote.
To be fair, Republicans don’t have a corner on the gerrymandering market. Democrats have used similar tactics very effectively in Maryland. But as you can see from REDMAP’s own words, PA is a fertile target within the sights of the Republican Party.
This brings us back to where we started -with the two gerrymandering-related court cases. As Arthur Naylor of Fair Districts Berks reminds us, neither of these court cases alone will change the way districts are created in PA. Naylor said recently, “No matter how the US or PA courts rule, both the congressional and state legislative districts in PA will continue to be determined by the majority party in Harrisburg unless we amend the PA Constitution. SB 22 and HB 722 will fix the problem.” ( SB 22 and HB 722 are two bills which would establish an independent redistricting commission.)
As the saying goes, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It seems the only way things are going to change in Pennsylvania is through the courts, through our continued efforts lobbying our Reps, and through a strong presence at the ballot box.
posted by Amy Levengood