On Tuesday, March 20, several Republican lawmakers filed legislation which seeks to impeach Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices David Wecht, Christine Donahue, Kevin Dougherty and Debra McCloskey Todd. Introduced by Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), the bill accuses these justices of “misbehavior in office,” and in a memo sent out to all House members, Dush said that the ruling overriding Pennsylvania’s U.S. House district lines amounted to an overstep of judicial authority of the state constitution, which lays out the path by which a bill becomes a law—in this case, a bill to delineate the district lines after the decennial Census and reapportionment process.
In January, the state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the congressional districts drawn after the 2010 census were gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and, as a result, violated the guarantee of free and fair elections. To resolve this issue, the court gave lawmakers three weeks to redraw the districts at the approval of Governor Wolf. However, the court drew its own version when the deadline was not met. Republican appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the new map failed due to the rejection of the plea by Justice Alito.
In response to Republican attempts to block the map, Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) released a statement: “I applaud the federal court for denying the Republican challenge to the new map. The map provided by the state Supreme Court are fair, reasonable and constitutional—unlike the 2011 unconstitutional gerrymander we had before. On a practical note, we are nearly through the entire period of petition signing and there are already candidates filed in most of the districts outlined by the state Supreme Court. To undo that work by the candidates and Department of State would throw this entire year of elections into disarray. The decision today [March 19] protects free and fair election.”
In regard to the move to impeach the aforementioned five Supreme Court Justices, Dush denied the idea that it was a retaliatory move against the Democrats on the court. He stated, “It’s specifically to do what I’ve been sworn to do, which is protect and defend the constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States, period. The Supreme Court overstepped its bounds, and the check-and-balance to that is impeachment and impeachment only. We have no other method to hold them accountable,” according to the Huffington Post.
In order to impeach a judge in Pennsylvania, the General Assembly must find that a judge was guilty of an impeachable offense. If so, two-thirds of the state Senate would subsequently vote to convict and impeach said judge after a trial. Currently, Republicans control 120 of 203 seats in the General Assembly and 34 of 50 seats in the Senate.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dush also stated that since the court was overstepping its boundary of power, future Republican-controlled courts may do the same.
The last time a judge was impeached in Pennsylvania was in 1994 due to a felony charge of which he, Justice Rolf Larsen, was found guilty.
Alex Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. ✉ AS823512@wcupa.edu.