HARRISBURG, Pa. - The League of Women Voters is leading a lawsuit filed Thursday that seeks to throw out the map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander that unfairly favors Republicans and violates the rights of Democratic voters.
The lawsuit, filed in Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court, calls partisan gerrymandering "one of the greatest threats to American democracy today" and suggests Pennsylvania's district map is one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in the country.
The congressional districts were originally drawn in private by leaders of Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 and signed as legislation by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican.
The 2011 map was the product of a national movement by the Republican Party to entrench its own representatives by utilizing new mapmaking technologies and data to gerrymander districts more effectively than ever, according to the suit.
"Republican mapmakers used sophisticated computer modeling techniques, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, to manipulate district boundaries with surgical precision to maximize the number of seats their party would win in future elections," according to the lawsuit, the first to challenge the state's 2011 map.
Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center and the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm of Washington, D.C., filed the complaint on behalf of the League of Women Voters and plaintiffs including a registered Democratic Party voter from each of Pennsylvania's congressional districts.
The suit asks the court to throw out the map, prevent its use in future elections and create a new map that complies with the constitution, if the state fails to come up with its own in a timely manner. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Court is currently dominated by judges elected as Republicans.
Defendants include many top state officials, including Republicans and Democrats, and none offered immediate comment on the lawsuit. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's office said only that the governor "believes the redistricting process should be fair and transparent."
The map drew heavy criticism from Democrats when it was unveiled for the ways in which it contorted districts, and moved whole counties and cities from one district to another that Democrats said made other districts more Republican friendly.
Some Republicans acknowledged at the time that the map was drawn to ensure the re-election of incumbents through the creation of politically safe districts while producing another Republican-held seat.
Republicans now fill 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 seats in the U.S. House, despite winning roughly half of the statewide congressional vote in the last three congressional elections. Only Texas, California and Florida send more Republicans to the U.S. House than Pennsylvania.
Democrats never sued, and some Democratic lawmakers even voted to approve the map.
In 2010, heavy Republican wins flipped a 12-7 Democratic advantage to a 12-7 Republican advantage. A new congressional map is required every decade to reflect population shifts. Because Pennsylvania grew more slowly than the rest of the nation, it lost a U.S. House seat, dropping from 19 to 18 in the most recent map.
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