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Fringe theory could reshape state election laws

Plus, Penn swimmer makes history under intense scrutiny.

👋  This could be a gamechanger...

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 18, 2022
Fringe theory, DUI details, info shield, final maps, recall review, 'witch hunt,' and an obit with points for honesty. It's Friday. This is Pa. Post.
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A fringe theory cited in challenges against Pennsylvania's new congressional map could give state legislatures unchecked election power if endorsed by the highest court in the United States — and that remains a possibility.

Spotlight PA and Stateline report the U.S. Supreme Court this month left the door open to the theory and with it a radical shift in how elections are governed ahead of the pivotal 2024 presidential contest.

While the court refused to overturn court-ordered (and more competitive) congressional maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, three conservative justices endorsed the "independent state legislature doctrine" theory, while another signaled he wanted to formally consider the question.

That means there appears to be enough votes to put the issue — and the possible legitimization of the doctrine — on the court's 2023 calendar. 

Legal experts and voting rights advocates are alarmed. 

THE CONTEXT: Their primary concern is that the doctrine would leave partisan politicians, rather than independent administrators, to oversee elections and, possibly, to overturn results they disagree with. 

Constitutional scholars have widely panned the "independent state legislature doctrine" as an inaccurate reading of the U.S. Constitution, but if endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court, it would virtually give state legislatures a blank slate to set voting rules and to draw congressional maps.

Joshua Douglas, a professor at the J. David Rosenberg College of Law at the University of Kentucky, put it this way: "It means that those who are most self-interested in retaining their positions also have the most power now in dictating the rules of the game."

Observers say the push is part and parcel of a larger effort by state legislatures to strip power from other branches of government. 

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"We don't want to allow a bad or poor candidate for the general election to potentially get through with a plurality due to the number of candidates."

—Allegheny County GOP Chairman Sam DeMarco echoing concerns some in the party have about the current size of the GOP race for governor
A very large tree and some very small flowers at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks for sharing, Nora O. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FORMAL CHARGES: Former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane was formally charged Thursday with drunk and careless driving stemming from a car crash over the weekend in Scranton. According to the criminal complaint, the driver of the car Kane hit told police that Kane had been spraying perfume on herself before officers arrived. Officers say Kane spoke with slurred speech and had trouble remembering.

SCANT DETAILS: Under a state law updated in 2018, Allegheny and Philadelphia are the only counties in Pennsylvania where autopsy reports are not available to the public. The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is challenging that law in court as it works to learn more about 13 deaths over two years in Allegheny County Jail, where even the loved ones of the deceased struggle to get details.

LINE UP: Pennsylvania's redistricting process is over and political candidates and local elections offices can begin preparing for May's primary in earnest. Spotlight PA has a tool to help you prepare as well. Simply enter your address to see how your legislative and congressional districts will change under the new maps and which political party claims a majority of registered voters in each.

MARIJUANA RECALL: Weeks after Pennsylvania's Department of Health ordered a recall of hundreds of medical marijuana products that contained additives not cleared for inhalation by the FDA, The Inquirer reports some experts are questioning the move. Not only did the DOH previously approve those same products; it recalled them without citing any harms to patients. The industry is pushing back.

'WITCH HUNT': A testy meeting of Lackawanna County's Prison Board (cued up here) greenlit the hiring of a private eye to probe how county commissioner and board member Debi Domenick got a key to the prison, the warden says without permission. Domenick calls it a "witch hunt," per the Times-Tribune. Domenick tried to quit the prison board after an earlier dustup but was told her membership is legally required.
NATIONAL CHAMPION: University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas on Thursday became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I collegiate national championship. A lengthy New Yorker profile titled "The trans swimmer who won too much" covers the intense backlash she's faced.

TO A GOOD HOME: If you're "looking for a lot of antiques, furniture, a 2021 Buick Enclave with 5,000 miles, and a ton of shoes and purses," Linda L. Bailey's surviving children ask that you wait the appropriate amount of time and "get in touch," according to Bailey's recently published obituary.

FREE BUSES: One of the state's largest transit systems is offering free bus rides through Sunday because of a staffing shortage linked to the system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Pittsburgh Magazine reports hundreds of Port Authority of Allegheny County employees have been placed on leave.

NO SERVICE: A pilot shortage is being blamed for airline SkyWest's decision to end service to Johnstown and 28 other small cities. The Tribune Democrat says the airline brought jet service to the area, and federal officials say it must continue the service until replacement carriers are found.

NO SMOKING: There would be no more smoking in Pennsylvania casinos or private clubs under a proposal from state Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) and state Sen. Jay Costa (D., Allegheny). Their plan is to close "loopholes" in the state's Clean Indoor Air Act by removing such exemptions, per WTAE.

CORRECTION: Thursday's edition said U.S. lawmakers are poised to end Daylight Saving Time and with it the "crowning achievement" of Pittsburgh Councilman Robert Garland. Correctly, the proposal would end the practice of "falling back" in November. It would make DST permanent, solidifying Garland's impact. H/t to reader Joshua S. for spotting the error.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Math words
Yesterday's answer: Associative

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan N.-Z., Bonnie R., Becky C., Don H., Judith D., Kevin H., Vicki U., Craig W., Kimberly S., Susan D., Pat B., George S., Elaine C., David W., James B., Dianne K., Elizabeth W., Bill S., Heidi B., Kyle C., and Joel S.
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