Will anyone prevent Pennsylvania Republicans from impeaching their supreme court?

After the state's top court struck down the Republican gerrymandering scheme, Republicans want revenge

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 21, 2018 1:23PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Pennsylvania Republicans are discussing impeaching the State Supreme Court judges who overturned their heavily partisan gerrymandered districts, and no one seems to be stopping them.

The rumblings of impeachment have grown stronger ever since the court struck down the Republican-crafted map, instead substituting a map that would be more fair, but less Republican.

State Rep. Cris Dush argued in a memo earlier this month that "the five justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, engaged in misbehavior in office."

He added, "Each is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office and disqualification to hold any office or trust or profit under this Commonwealth."

Dush's sentiments have been echoed by other prominent Republicans in the state. Earlier this week, Rep. Ryan Costello insisted that "this was a politically corrupt process" which warranted impeachment.

But there isn't a Republican who has offered to stop them. Sen. Pat Toomey, one of the top Republicans in the state, suggested to reporters that he'd be OK with that taking place. The remarks were filmed by Sean Kitchen, contributor and assistant editor for the state's independent Raging Chicken Press.

"Look, I think it's inevitable that that conversation's gonna take place. I think state — house members, state senators are going to be speaking among themselves and their constituents," Toomey said. "And the fundamental question is, does this blatant, unconstitutional partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process, does that rise to the level of impeachment? That's ultimately their decision, but it's a conversation that has to happen."

Toomey's sentiment has been met with dismay by many Pennsylvania Democrats.

"Any sentiment about moving forward with an impeachment of justices because of their ruling is totally outrageous and flies in the face of constitutional standards," State Rep. Robert Freeman told Salon. "We don't impeach Supreme Court judges for fulfilling their responsibilities to protect and interpret the Constitution and issuing a ruling that reflects that."

When Pennsylvania's congressional districts were gerrymandered, the district designs were harshly criticized for going to extremes to protect Republican incumbents and allow them to control the state's house delegation regardless of the popular vote. Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the gerrymandered districts "clearly, plainly and palpably" violated the state constitution and ordered them to be redrawn.

"Since there was an inability on the part of the legislature and the governor to reach a consensus, [the Pennsylvania Supreme Court] came up with their own map that, in my opinion, is extremely fair and extremely reasonable," Freeman told Salon. "And in my opinion, it guarantees more safe Republican districts than safe Democratic districts. It also provides for at least five swing districts that will reflect the mood of the electorate in a given political year."

Pennsylvania has recently developed a reputation as a crucial swing state in national elections, particularly after Donald Trump pulled off an upset victory over Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election — winning by 44,000 votes. Prior to that election, Pennsylvania had been reliably Democratic in national elections, supporting that party's presidential candidate in every contest since 1992.

There is a growing divide between the eastern part of the state, which is more progressive due to its proximity to Philadelphia, and the increasingly conservative inclinations of the rest of the state, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. As a result, Pennsylvania's national profile has entered a state of flux — one reflected by the ongoing struggle to decide whether the Republican Party should be able to lock down its control of the state's national and local congressional makeup by rigging the map.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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