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 PA Supreme Court and the two appellate courts, the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. The Republicans’ single most diabolical grab for power in PA history will appear on the low-turnout primary ballot on May 18, dressed up as a respectable constitutional amendment.

Here’s the wickedly clever initiative: divide up the state into seven “regions” and empower the voters in each region to elect their choice for one judge to sit on the Supreme Court, one on Superior Court, and one on Commonwealth Court. The Republican-controlled General Assembly will define the regions and, thus, the future of judicial rulings in the commonwealth.

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 and Ward 3 Leader for the Haverford Dems — 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.  

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).