GOP Looks To Weaken Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Because It Caught Them Cheating

Darren.Woon

Pennsylvania Republicans seek to gerrymander the courts by changing the way in which court judges are elected.

Pennsylvania state Republicans proposed a restructuring of how court justices are elected, a move that seems designed to increase their power in the state’s courts, according to The Guardian

Pennsylvania’s supreme court said state Republicans had unconstitutionally rigged congressional elections in the state two years ago. While Republicans fumed and threatened to impeach four of the justices, the map was redrawn, and voters elected an even split of Democrats and Republicans to Congress in 2018.

Court justices, where Democrats hold a 5-2 majority, are currently appointed through statewide elections, but the Republican proposal would make it so the justices are elected from districts throughout the state.

Last year, a supreme court decision determined federal courts couldn’t stop gerrymandering -- the partisan redistricting of state maps -- but nothing stopped state courts from acting. A state court in North Carolina followed Pennsylvania soon after and struck down electoral districts as unconstitutional gerrymanders.

“With the Pennsylvania supreme court having struck down the general assembly’s gerrymandering, the general assembly is now clearly trying to gerrymander the Pennsylvania supreme court itself,” said Daniel Jacobson, an attorney who helped represent the plaintiffs in the gerrymandering case. “It only goes to show the lengths that the general assembly leaders will go when they feel that their grip on power is threatened.”

State lawmakers across the country have moved to weaken the independence of state courts, said Douglas Keith, who studies courts across the nation at the Brennan Center for Justice. 

According to Keith, some states elect supreme court justices by districts and there can be good reasons for doing so, but unjustified efforts to change the composition of state courts can weaken public confidence in judges. 

“If the calls for geographic diversity are just a thin veil on an effort to make the court more political, or capture more seats for a political party or ideology, then there’s a problem and a misunderstanding of what judges’ responsibility in our democracy are,” Keith said. 

The change would require a constitutional amendment that Pennsylvania voters would need to approve through a ballot referendum. The earliest it could appear is 2021.

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