By Cary Holley
Cary Holley is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Political Science
Gerrymandering, the practice of constructing districts in an electorally-advantageous way, has been a component of American politics for quite some time now. Although the prospect of diluting a political adversary’s influence may seem attractive from a partisan perspective, gerrymandering hurts democracy as a whole. Considering that Pennsylvania was recently named as one of the worst gerrymandered states in the nation, it is pertinent to review how Pennsylvania got here and the implications of such a position. 
As mentioned earlier, Pennsylvania ranks highly among states that suffer the most from gerrymandering. According to a special report by NYU’s Brennan Center, Pennsylvanian districts have one of the most extreme levels of partisan bias. It is estimated that for 2012-2016, the average seat skew in Pennsylvania was 3+ extra Republican seats.  Such a finding begs the question: how and why did Pennsylvania become a paradigmatic example of extreme gerrymandering?
The only parameters for Congressional redistricting is that the districts must be composed of roughly equal populations. For state redistricting, districts must be “contiguous,” “compact” and must refrain from dividing boroughs or cities unless doing so is unavoidable.  Although these latter restrictions may seem rather stringent, crafty legislators nonetheless found ways to circumvent them. In 2011, a citizen of Allentown brought a case to the state Supreme Court accusing the state legislature of violating the redistricting parameters set forth by the Pennsylvania constitution. The Court sided against the legislature and ordered the maps to be redrawn.  However, this feat obviously did not have a great impact considering that extreme gerrymandering in Pennsylvania still exists.
More recently, another gerrymandering case was brought to the Pennsylvania courts. In September of this year, a coalition of voters filed a lawsuit claiming that the 2011 district map was unconstitutional.  While this is a big step in and of itself, the group did not stop there. Cognizant of the crucial midterm elections approaching, the group requested that the Supreme Court use the ‘King’s Bench power’ to intervene in the case pending in the Commonwealth Court.  This motion was set forth earlier this month and the parties are still awaiting judgement. While it is rather unlikely that this decision will happen in time to affect the upcoming elections, it is important to remember that a court order to redraw districts does not necessarily translate into the legislature then drawing fair districts.
Representation is one of the cornerstones of a functioning democratic republic. The sad fact that goals of partisan ambition have eclipsed goals of true democracy is reflected in the ubiquity of gerrymandered districts nationwide. As seen in Pennsylvania, even strict rules and court decisions do not seem to effectively control the problem. Perhaps the notion of legislatures drawing their own districts (or those of their colleagues) must be reexamined. Furthermore, we must question how we got to a place in our politics in which representatives’ first concern is not the representation and influence of all their citizens. Despite ideological leanings, we can all agree that suppression of any vote is harmful to our democracy.
 Stuhldreher, Tim.“Report: Pennsylvania among most gerrymandered states in US.” Lancaster Online. May 30, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://lancasteronline.com/news/national/report-pennsylvania-among-most-gerrymandered-states-in-u-s/article_08642350-4560-11e7-b1ce-efb3a869a90a.html
 Royden, Laura, Li, Michael. “Extreme Maps.” Brennan Center for Justice. May 9, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Extreme%20Maps%205.16_0.pdf
 “How Redistricting Works.” Fair Districts PA. Accessed October 28, 2017. https://www.fairdistrictspa.com/the-problem/how-redistricting-works
 PennLive Editorial Board. “Amanda Holt is Pennsylvania’s Activist of the year.” December 31, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2012/12/amanda_holt_is_pennsylvanias_citizen_activist_of_the_year.html
 McKelvey, Wallace. “Gerrymandered? New lawsuit demands fairer congressional districts.” September 27, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/06/pa_redistricting_lawsuit_court.html
 Lai, Jonathan. “Gerrymandering and the 2018 elections: Advocates ask Pa. Supreme Court to use rare power.” October 19, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/state/pa-gerrymandering-suit-stay-pending-whitford-scotus-case-20171019.html
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