Supreme Court upholds Pennsylvania congressional map in win for Democrats

(Reuters) - In a boost to the Democratic Party's chances of winning back the U.S. Congress this year, both the U.S. Supreme Court and a Pennsylvania panel of federal judges on Monday rejected Republicans' efforts to block the state's new congressional district map from taking effect.

The twin rulings, which all but guarantee that November's midterm elections in Pennsylvania will be contested using the new boundaries, came just 24 hours before candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives must file petitions to secure spots on ballots.

The state Supreme Court ruled in January along party lines that the Republican-controlled legislature illegally designed the old boundaries to hurt Democratic voters, violating their constitutional rights. After the legislature did not meet a court deadline to submit a new version, the court drew its own map.

Independent political analysts have said the new map will boost Democratic chances in one-third of the state's 18 seats, which Republicans have dominated since the old district lines took effect in 2011 despite Pennsylvania's status as a closely divided electoral swing state.

Republicans hold 12 of those 18 seats after Democrat Conor Lamb's surprise victory last week in a special election. All told, Democrats need to flip 23 seats nationwide to capture control of the House.

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The state's Republican legislative leaders had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the map from taking effect, while eight Republican Congress members and two Republican state lawmakers separately filed a lawsuit in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, seeking essentially the same remedy.

In both cases, Republicans argued that only lawmakers have the power to draw voting districts. U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, had urged legislators to contest the map.

The panel of three federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, dismissed the Harrisburg lawsuit on Monday, finding that individual lawmakers did not have standing to bring such a complaint on behalf of the entire state legislature.

The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected the Republicans' petition in a single-line order. There was no indication that any justice dissented from that decision.

Republican lawmakers did not immediately comment.

Critics had long pointed to Pennsylvania's bizarrely shaped districts as a prime example of partisan gerrymandering, in which one party engineers lines to marginalize opposing voters.

The Pennsylvania case, which began with a lawsuit filed last year by the League of Women Voters, is one of several gerrymandering challenges nationwide.

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to set a legal standard for partisan gerrymandering in two cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland. A ruling is expected by June.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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