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Supreme Court keeps revised Pa. congressional map in place

Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, called the federal judges’ ruling the right decision and said it will let the state move ahead with a fair map.
Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, called the federal judges’ ruling the right decision and said it will let the state move ahead with a fair map.(Keith Srakocic/Associated Press/File 2018)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Republican leaders’ efforts to stop Pennsylvania from using a new congressional district map in midterm elections were dealt a potentially fatal blow Monday when the US Supreme Court and a panel of federal judges both ruled against them.

The courts rejected requests to throw out or halt use of the map imposed last month by the state Supreme Court, which had ruled that a 2011 GOP-crafted district map violated the state constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections.

The pair of rulings makes it highly likely that this year’s congressional elections in Pennsylvania will be conducted under district lines widely viewed as more favorable to Democrats than the 2011 map.

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The previous map was drafted to aid Republican candidates and proved to be a campaign winner for them, leading the GOP to a 13-to-5 edge in the state’s congressional delegation for all three elections in which it was used.

Both decisions came with just one day left for the state’s congressional candidates to circulate petitions to get on the May 15 primary ballot.

The US Supreme Court turned down the request without comment.

The panel of federal judges said it had no authority to act in the matter except to dismiss the case.

‘‘The plaintiffs invite us to opine on the appropriate balance of power between the Commonwealth’s legislature and judiciary in redistricting matters, and then to pass judgment on the propriety of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s actions under the United States Constitution,’’ the judges wrote. ‘‘These are things that, on the present record, we cannot do.’’

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf called the federal judges’ ruling the right decision and said it will let the state move ahead with a fair map.

The Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court had ruled in January that a map Republicans crafted in 2011 amounted to an unconstitutional gerrymander.

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After Wolf and lawmakers in the GOP-controlled General Assembly did not produce a replacement, the court created its own map last month and gave candidates extra time for petition gathering.

The federal judges’ decision comes in a case brought a month ago by eight sitting Republican representatives and two GOP state senators. They argued the state justices infringed on the Legislature’s prerogative and did not give lawmakers enough time to come up with a replacement.

In other matters Monday:

■  The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether federal immigration law gives the government the power to indefinitely detain any noncitizen it is considering deporting if the person previously committed crimes.

Immigration law says that if noncitizens commit a crime for which they can be deported, the government should take them into custody for potential removal when they’re released from prison or jail. A person detained immediately can be held indefinitely.

The government argues the same is true if the person is released and then later detained for possible removal.

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that noncitizens not promptly detained must be given the opportunity to be released on bond. The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to reverse that ruling.

■  The high court rejected a challenge to Arizona’s death penalty law. The justices let stand the convictions and death sentences of Abel Daniel Hidalgo, who is in a federal prison in Arizona serving life sentences for two other killings.

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Hidalgo maintains that the law doesn’t sufficiently narrow eligibility for a death sentence. Arizona law includes 14 aggravating circumstances that prosecutors can put forward to justify a death sentence.

■  The justices decided to leave in place a ruling that revived two federal lawsuits stemming from the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Mich.

The high court declined to get involved in the cases, returning them to the trial court to move forward.