Pa. court's new congressional map has big impact on Berks

'See you in court,' says Berks commissioner

HARRISBURG, Pa. - If it stands, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's new congressional district map will have a big impact on how Berks County is represented on Capitol Hill.

The new map, which will take effect in the May 15 primary, will have Berks represented by three members of Congress instead of four, dashing the hopes some had of returning the county to single-district representation.

Geographically, much of the county, including Bernville, Hamburg, Laureldale, Leesport, Fleetwood, Lyons, Kutztown, Shoemakersville, Strausstown, and Topton, is covered by the 9th District, which also includes all of Carbon, Columbia, Lebanon, and Schuylkill counties, as well as parts of Luzerne, Montour, and Northumberland. The district's total population is 705,687.

Reading, which had been paired with Lancaster County, and the southern part of Berks, including Birdsboro, Kenhorst, Mohnton, Shillington, and Wyomissing, are now part of the 6th District, which also includes Chester County and has a total population of 705,688.

The eastern edge of Berks, including Boyertown, Bechtelsville, and Bally are included with the 4th District, which covers much of Montgomery County and has a total population of 705,687.

Republican lawmakers are expected to quickly challenge the new map in federal court, arguing legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps.

"See you in court," Republican Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach said in a post on Twitter. "The Pennsylvania Supreme Court speaks and let's see who listens. This is one of the worst possible options for Berks County. We're in the 9th Cong. Dist? Are you serious?"

Pennsylvania’s Republican delegation has provided a crucial pillar of support for Republican control of the U.S. House since 2010.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to elect Republicans and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania’s registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters were beginning to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the candidates’ deadline to submit paperwork to run.

Some races are wide open: There are six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again, the most in four decades. The new map also has immediate implications for some incumbents.

Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, whose suburban Philadelphia district was narrowly won by Clinton in 2016, is in even more dire straits now that his district adds the heavily Democratic city of Reading.

The divided court appears to have drawn its own map, approved in a 4-3 vote, although some districts bear similarities to proposals submitted to the court by Democrats, and it's almost certain to improve Democrats' chances for picking up more seats this year.

"I applaud the court for their decision and I respect their effort to remedy Pennsylvania's unfair and unequal congressional elections," said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. "Now, my focus will be on making sure the Department of State can support our counties and all candidates in the election process, particularly during the petition period."

The court's order doesn't provide details on which municipalities and wards are in each district. That has sowed confusion, including whether two candidates running to fill a vacancy in southwestern Pennsylvania would each land in a district with a Pittsburgh-area congressman.

The Democratic-majority state high court ruled last month that Pennsylvania's district boundaries were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 seats in three elections under the invalidated map, although statewide elections are often closely contested.

The new map won't apply to March's special election in southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District.



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