Representative democracy in Pennsylvania is under attack. This week, on a straight party-line vote, Republican senators passed a constitutional amendment that would give the majority party in the General Assembly a strikingly unprecedented degree of influence over who is elected to our courts, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In turn, that would undermine the checks and balances in our state government—including those that have blocked, and would block in the future, the Republicans from tilting the rules of our democracy in their favor.
This new action taken by our heavily gerrymandered state Senate is one more step in a slow-motion coup by which Republicans are seeking to change the political rules to give them control over our state government without having to be bothered to win more votes in fair elections. It follows the enactment of Voter ID laws that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters—a policy that their own leader, Mike Turzai, admitted would help them win elections. It follows the creation of heavily gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts that have given Republicans an enormous advantage in elections to these offices. It follows efforts to undermine labor organizations, the political voice of working people in Pennsylvania. And it was added to a troubling proposal that pretends to create an independent redistricting commission but would, instead, give the majority party in the General Assembly the ability to continue to draw lines in its favor.
The Republican proposal would replace the statewide election of members of the Supreme, Commonwealth, and Superior Court with election by judicial districts. Those districts would be drawn by the General Assembly itself (not by the redistricting commission as some people have claimed). This would enable the Republicans to draw district lines in a way that almost guarantees them a majority on the Supreme Court and our other courts. To attain this goal—and to threaten sitting justices—the General Assembly could redraw these districts for every election. And in the transition from statewide to district elections, the General Assembly could, in effect, shorten the tenure of the current members of the Supreme and other courts while also blocking some of those members from being reelected and helping others to be reelected.
The Republicans have offered specious reasons for changing the rules for electing judges, reasons that confuse the role of a legislature, which is designed in part to represent local interests and a court, which is designed to apply the law fairly and equitably statewide. But everyone—including the smirking Republicans who presented this proposal—knows that it is an act of revenge against a Supreme Court that this year redrew congressional district lines that were widely recognized as the most unfair and politically partisan in the country.
The judicial gerrymandering proposal is one more step in the Republican plan to eviscerate our representative democracy and install themselves permanently in power. We have three weeks to block it in the Pennsylvania House. Contact your member of the Pennsylvania House today to tell him or her to say “NO” to the plan to undermine our constitutional democracy by gerrymandering Pennsylvania’s judicial elections.