GOP lawmakers seek to impeach Pennsylvania judges over congressional map
HARRISBURG — Twelve Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania have signed on to resolutions introduced Tuesday that seek to impeach four Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court over rulings in a congressional redistricting case.
The four nearly identical resolutions argue the justices acted improperly through rulings that gave lawmakers about three weeks to enact a new district map and then produced a court-drawn map.
The court ruled a 2011 GOP-crafted map, among the most gerrymandered in the nation, violated the state constitution's guarantee of free and equal elections. The replacement it came up with is widely expected to help Democrats as they seek to flip U.S. House seats now held by Republicans.
“If we allow this to stand without taking action, the future courts are going to decide that the court has the ultimate ability to write law and they can turn around and cite this as precedent where we've allowed it to occur with no repercussions on the court,” said the prime sponsor, Jefferson County Republican Rep. Cris Dush.
The co-sponsors are among the House's more conservative Republicans, and so far no members of the GOP leadership have signed on.
If the 203-member House votes to impeach, the two-thirds of senators in attendance must agree to convict in order to remove the official.
“It is not a decision to be made lightly, and we have not had those discussions,” said House Republican caucus spokesman Steve Miskin.
The resolutions seek impeachment of justices David Wecht, Debra Todd, Christine Donohue and Kevin Dougherty. None returned messages seeking comment left Tuesday at their chambers.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County called the impeachment movement a “ridiculous political vendetta” that attempts to intimidate elected justices.
“This is an absurd attack on common sense,” Dermody said. “It's an attack on the independence of every judge in our state, one of the bedrock principles of our democracy.”
The president of the state bar association, Sharon R. Lopez, says the judiciary needs to be independent without threat of impeachment by another branch of government.
“The Pennsylvania Constitution makes clear that public officials can be impeached ‘for any misbehavior in office,'” Lopez said recently. “There are no allegations of misbehavior in this case.”
Republicans drew the 2011 map to help their candidates, and it worked, giving them a 13-5 edge in the congressional delegation for the past three election cycles. Democrats have a 5-to-4 statewide edge in voter registration, and have won 18 of 24 statewide races since the 2011 map was put in place.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a bid by Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai and Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati to block the new map, and a three-judge panel threw out a separate challenge to the state court decision brought by eight sitting Republican congressmen and two GOP state senators.