Case Summary

On April 26, 2021 a group of registered voters filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Secretary of State challenging the state's current congressional districts as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs alleged due to population shifts over the last decade, the state's congressional districts had become unconstitutionally malapportioned in violation of the one person, one vote constitutional requirement. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Pennsylvania's current congressional redistricting plan violated the Free and Equal Elections and Petition Clauses of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, § 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and 2 U.S.C. § 2(c), and an injunction barring the defendants from using the plan in any future elections. They also requested that the court implement a new congressional redistricting plan that complied with one person, one vote in the event the General Assembly and Governor failed to do so.

Three different groups filed motions to intervene in the case as respondents: the legislative leaders of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and individual Republican voters, and a group of Pennsylvania voters. On September 2, 2021 the Commonwealth Court granted intervention to the legislative leaders, but denied it as to the Republican Party, individual Republican voters, and the group of Pennsylvania voters. In its opinion, the Court found the state legislators should be permitted to intervene because their ability to legislate in the area of redistricting would be directly impaired if the Court imposed a deadline upon the General Assembly and Governor to enact a congressional redistricting plan, as the petitioners requested. In contrast, the Court found the Republican Party had "no legally enforceable interest" in the litigation because the role they sought to play in the redistricting process was both speculative and not protected by law. Similarly, the Court found the Republican and individual voters' claimed interests in the litigation were also speculative and their asserted interests in the redistricting process did not surpass the "common interest of all citizens" in the redistricting process.

On October 8, 2021 the court issued a memorandum opinion sustaining the Respondents' and Intervenors' preliminary objections based on a lack of standing and ripeness. The court, while recognizing the petitioners' rights might be harmed at some future time should the State fail to enact redistricting plans in a timely manner, found the petitioners' alleged harm was too remote and too speculative to warrant court action at that time, and thus they lacked standing to pursue their claims. Similarly, the court found the petitioners' claims were not ripe for judicial disposition either as the petitioners had alleged no immediate harm to date and their claims were contingent on "future uncertainties." For those reasons, the court dismissed the petition without prejudice, thereby bringing the case to an end.

Case Library

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania - No. 132 MD 2021