Late last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling that congressional redistricting maps drawn after the 2010 census and in use for the last 3 election cycles (2012, 2014, and 2016) violated the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Their solution was to have the State Legislature (with a Republican majority in both chambers) draw a new map and have Governor Tom Wolf (Democrat) approve the new map all in the span of three weeks--something that normally takes several months of planning under the best circumstances. Or, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would draw a new map instead.
Needless to say, the Legislature and the Governor did not arrive at an agreement. So, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a new map for congressional districts that take effect this spring for the 2018 primaries.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's vote came down to a party-line vote, with the Democratic-elected justices voting to overturn the current map (In Pennsylvania, all judges — including Supreme Court justices — are elected by voters and run as either a Democrat or Republican candidates for ten-year terms and then retention.).
Now Pennsylvania elected officials are bringing up the idea of impeaching Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices for a ruling which is a clear attempt to govern from the bench and, worse, not abiding by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article about this prospect today:
[S]tate Rep. Cris Dush of Jefferson County, raised the idea a few weeks ago, the rhetoric has intensified. This week, U.S. Rep Ryan Costello of Chester County said the justices “should be impeached” and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said the idea is worth discussing... Constitutional law scholars disagree on whether there may be grounds for impeachment — the first step in removing the elected justices from office. Dush and his supporters say the Democratic justices who voted 5-2 to invalidate the 2011 congressional map passed by the GOP-led legislature violated the U.S. Constitution by trampling over the redistricting rights that by law belong to the general assembly...
As of Thursday, no impeachment bill had been introduced. But in the memo he circulated to fellow lawmakers, Dush contended the high court’s ruling redrawing the congressional map “blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”... “They have absolutely no authority to say that if the governor vetoes, that it does not come back to the legislature. That is specific under the constitution. I am protecting the rule of law,” Dush said when confronted by protesters earlier this month. “This is not about gerrymandering.” Republicans have also broadly argued that the court usurped the authority of the legislative and executive branches...
The Inquirer explains that Pennsylvania elected officials may be about to venture into unchartered territory:
The state constitution does not say very much about impeachment, which is essentially the legislative process of formally accusing an official with wrongdoing. The constitution says, in part: “The Governor and all other civil officers shall be liable to impeachment for any misbehavior in office.” But the constitution does not define the term misbehavior, leaving state lawmakers to decide what conduct should trigger removal from office...
[According to one state constitution expert:] “If state lawmakers “believe judicial norms were trampled, they get to say if that’s an impeachable offense,” he said. “No one can second-guess them.”
In the meantime, Pennsylvania Republicans are planning to appeal this new map to the U.S. Supreme Court again as well as turn to a three-judge federal panel as prescribed by federal statute.
We will keep you posted on future developments in the Pennsylvania redistricting controversy as it continues.