Editorial: PA GOP’s impeachment efforts threaten democracy

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Harvey Barrison | Flickr

Ever since they redistricted in 2013 after winning the state legislature, Pennsylvania Republicans have played ball by their own set of rules — and now that those rules are being threatened, they’re going after the refs.

The Commonwealth’s GOP suffered a serious blow to its continued hold on power last month when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the boundaries of the 18 Congressional districts unconstitutional. The old map strongly favored Republican candidates, the court proclaimed — and the Supreme Court reaffirmed when the GOP appealed the decision.

In a midterm election environment this fall that’s already speculated to lean heavily against President Donald Trump’s party and in favor of Democratic insurgents, the added disadvantage of losing structural district benefits has Pennsylvania Republicans understandably worried. But instead of redoubling efforts to woo voters to support the GOP in the new districts in November, the party has begun to pursue a much more worrisome strategy — getting back at the justices who ruled against them.

A core group of 12 Republicans in the State House of Representatives Tuesday introduced legislation that would bring impeachment proceedings against four justices on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s bench. The four justices in question, all Democrats, voted to end the GOP’s stranglehold on Pennsylvania’s Congressional seats.

At first glance, it’s almost impossible to tell whether Republicans in the state House intend the impeachment effort to actually remove the justices from their seats, or whether it’s simply the party’s way of intimidating the judiciary by flexing its political strength. But either way, state House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, of the 33rd District, is right that it’s clearly based in “political vendetta.”

“This is an absurd attack on common sense,” Dermody told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Tuesday. “It’s an attack on the independence of every judge in our state, one of the bedrock principles of our democracy.”

Even if the move by Republicans in the state House is meant as nothing more than a politically charged gesture, Dermody is right that the legislative majority’s attempts to intimidate the justices who disagreed with it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to an autocratic system of government. Republican leaders in the state House need to condemn the proposal from the 12 extremists under their leadership or else risk getting lumped in with the authoritarian elements in their party. Otherwise, Pennsylvania’s judiciary runs the risk of becoming even more of a partisan football to punt back and forth than it is already.

In Pennsylvania, justices on the Supreme Court are elected to their positions in statewide elections with 10-year terms in office. Because they’re elected by the entire state and not the constituents of a carefully drawn district, it seems fair to say the court’s five-to-two Democratic advantage more fairly represents Pennsylvanians’ political preferences than our Congressional delegation’s 12-to-six GOP advantage. And that seems to frighten our elected Republicans.

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