As a surprise to Democrats this week, the state Supreme Court refused to take up the case, which will now give an overarching influence to a conservative lower court in determining the new cards, instead of the Democratic majority’s high right. Now, several House Democrats are concerned that their party’s meticulous refinement strategy could potentially backfire, complicating an already messy battle to redraw their state’s cards – even though Elias and his team insist there were no mistakes.
“This is the first time I have been nervous about redistribution,” said a person closely involved in the Pennsylvania Democrats’ process, speaking on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the ongoing legal process.
Both Elias and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which oversees the party’s legal efforts, said the lawsuits should first be brought before the lower, more conservative court. But the excitement between the state and national actors over complex legal issues Stresses how concerns run high in a state that is the key to Democrats’ dwindling hopes of retaining Parliament’s majorities.
“It went in Commonwealth Court both ways,” Elias said, defending the strategy vigorously. “I do not know where their interruption is.”
“We are all in back and forth proceedings with these courts,” added Kelly Ward Burton, president of the NDRC, whose subsidiary is involved in the lawsuit. The challenge was to start in the lower Commonwealth Court, she said. “And I think there’s still potential to get to [state] The Supreme Court, so I do not want to say that we are worried yet. “
The state legislature and governor are almost certain to blow past the unofficial January 24 deadline set by Pennsylvania election officials, leaving the Conservative lower court with the responsibility of choosing the card. But Elias pointed to a different date: the end of last month, citing the statements of state officials that in order to open the candidate application period in February on time, the card was needed to pass the Legislative Assembly before the end of the year.
Anxious Democrats say the national group’s strategy could at least cost precious time and energy ahead of the midterm period because they involved the lower conservative court. At worst, they say, it could threaten more central powers and result in Republicans taking over a large majority of the state’s congressional districts.
Most of the state’s congressional delegation – who met Thursday night for a briefing on the latest developments – are reluctant to comment on the record before the card is finalized. But privately, Democrats are annoyed this week after the state Supreme Court declined to intervene in the map drawing, shattering hopes they could avoid a controversial lower court battle.
Asked if she was concerned that the state Supreme Court had not yet taken jurisdiction, Representative Susan Wild (D-Pa.) Said, “The whole redistribution concerns us all.”
But Wild and others declined to comment on the card or the trial until it was final.
The fight for redistribution has been so engrossing that several members of Parliament, including representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) And Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Raised the issue with Obama-era Justice Minister Eric Holder, who now chairs the party redistribution committee. Houlahan and Dean pressured Holder during an unrelated call organized by the New Democrat Coalition this week, according to several people familiar with the remarks.
To add insult, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough has taken up the case. McCullough is perhaps best known for giving Trump a brief legal victory in November 2020, when she ordered government officials to halt the certification process for the election results. (It was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.)
However, the NDRC often takes precautionary measures to get the courts ready to get involved ahead of potential fights in states with shared governments, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Waiting to ask the court for help only after the deadlines have already been broken can speed up the line-drawing process – and it is possible that they could try to appeal directly to the state Supreme Court only to be told to go back to the Commonwealth Court.
Not all Democrats anticipate the worst, noting that the state Supreme Court is likely to intervene if the lower court selects or produces a card that the state Supreme Court would dismiss as unfair. But it increases tensions among an already nervous democratic delegation, as the state is already losing a seat this year, and the delay in delivering the census data has put them in an even deeper time squeeze.
The legal standoff comes from Pennsylvania’s divided government: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has veto power over any bill adopted by the State GOP-controlled Legislative Assembly. The card would probably always be settled in court, but some Democrats hoped it could go directly to the state Liberal Supreme Court. Three years ago, that body struck down a Republican-drawn card from the last decade, moving the delegation from 13 Republicans and five Democrats to an even split.
It is also a year of particularly high stakes for the densely divided battlefield state, with a competitive governor and Senate race all on the ballot.
And while Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state has called for a congressional card to be completed by Jan. 24, few in the state believe it will be possible.
Instead, the lower court has said it will pick its own card before the end of this month, leaving congressional candidates in a painful limbo. Many expect important deadlines, such as the date of declaring a candidacy in March or the nationwide primary election in May, to be pushed back if no agreement is reached more quickly between Republicans in state law and Wolf.
There is little sign of a compromise. Republicans on Wednesday passed a new congressional card from the state House Wolf criticized last month as “the result of deliberate line-drawing choices favoring Republican candidates.”
The House Democrats have invested in one litigation heavy national redistribution strategy with the establishment of the National Democratic Redistribution Committee in 2017. Holder and former President Barack Obama have lent their star power to the effort, and the group has filed lawsuits, with the help of Elias, and challenged GOP-drawn and commission cards as unconstitutional.
Elias, who has spent decades representing prominent Democratic candidates, helped expand suffrage before the 2020 election. After the election, he spearheaded the Democrats’ legal efforts to seal Biden’s victory, succeeding more than 60 cases to close Trump’s challenge to the results.
The longtime lawyer has also worked on the redistrict in dozens of states. It puts him in a unique high-profile position and can make him a target for anger from lawmakers while awaiting their fate in the process once in a decade.
“It’s nerve-wracking for them. I fully understand that. They do not have cards. They are up to a deadline. It is not clear how the cards are to be made at this time,” Burton said of the Pennsylvania delegation.