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Rigging PA’s State Courts in 2021: Republicans Try a New Form of Gerrymandering

Rigging PA’s State Courts in 2021: Republicans Try a New Form of Gerrymandering

In the wake of their shameful conduct following the 2020 election, the PA Republicans’ now plan to permanently politicize the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the two appellate courts, the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. The Republicans’ grab for power will appear on the traditionally low-turnout primary ballot on May 18, dressed up as a respectable constitutional amendment.

RECENT HISTORY

In the 2019-2020 session, the PA General Assembly unfortunately passed an awful constitutional amendment that would empower our state legislature to create seven judicial districts for PA higher courts. Candidates for Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court would be elected by voters in these seven districts rather than running statewide.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly will define the regions and, thus, the future of judicial rulings in the commonwealth. If that amendment passes again early this next session, it could go to a public vote as soon as the 2021 primary election.

The bill was pushed through without public hearings, expert testimony or any hint of due diligence, with just minutes spent in discussion in both house and senate committees.

In effect, the judicial district amendment would undermine constitutional checks and balances among our branches of state government and would open the door to a new, unprecedented version of gerrymandering. 

THE REPUBLICAN SPIN

The Republican pitch is that this system will give each region in the state a “representative” on these court benches. They do not mention that it would give Republicans control of mapping new legislative districts in 2022. If you hated gerrymandering before the PA Supreme Court temporarily stopped it, wait ‘til you see gerrymandering on judicial steroids!

Jack McNamara — an experienced PA. lawyer from Haverford — points to the fundamental fallacy in the Republicans’ pitch: “No judge,” says McNamara, “should be engaged in representing constituents.” That is what political officers do. Judges are supposed to “interpret the law that is to be applied to all citizens of the state.” Doing that job in a fair and objective manner, says McNamara, is much more likely if you are elected by voters across the state rather than if you are defined as a “representative” of the majority of voters in one partisan region.

So while PA Democrats have been arguing for years that judges should be selected by non-partisan commissions, not elected, the Republicans are moving to make judicial positions even more partisan.

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD TO ALL PENNSYLVANIA DEMOCRATS ABOUT THE NEED TO GET OUT AND VOTE NO FOR THIS AMENDMENT ON THE PRIMARY BALLOT TO STOP THIS REPUBLICAN POWER GRAB.

Learn more about this issue:

Pennsylvania Districts for State Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Court Elections Amendment (2021) (from Ballotpedia)

Say No to Judicial Gerrymandering (from Fair Districts PA, Dec. 30, 2020)

Republicans move to give themselves friendlier judges, as critics warn of a dangerously politicized court (from WHYY, Dec. 29, 2020)

For a thorough, professional examination of the ways which this proposal violates 230 years of U.S. judicial principles, see “Judicial Districts and Judicial Independence.” (From Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, May, 2019).

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