US court refuses to block Pennsylvania congressional redistricting
Voters (Shutterstock)

A panel of federal judges in Pennsylvania on Monday refused to block the state’s new congressional district map from taking effect, rejecting Republican arguments that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its authority in issuing new voting lines in February.

The ruling, a victory for Democrats hoping to defeat Republican incumbents in November’s midterm congressional elections, came just 24 hours before candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives must file petitions to secure spots on this fall’s ballot.

The state’s top court ruled in January along party lines that the Republican-controlled legislature illegally designed the old boundaries to benefit the party’s candidates at the expense of Democrats, violating voters’ constitutional rights. After the legislature did not meet a court deadline to submit a new version, the court drew its own redistricting 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 lines took effect in 2011. 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.

Eight Republican congressmen and two Republican state legislators sued election officials in February, arguing that only lawmakers have the legal power to create voting districts.

But a three-judge panel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital, dismissed their lawsuit on Monday, finding that individual Republican lawmakers did not have standing to bring such a complaint on behalf of the entire state legislature.

State Republicans have also filed a separate legal challenge to the new map with the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled. Justice Samuel Alito, who hears emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, previously rejected a similar petition in February.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis