Pennsylvania GOP moves to oust judges over gerrymandering decision

A Pennsylvania state representative has introduced resolutions to impeach four of the five state Supreme Court justices who voted to override congressional district maps they said were unfairly gerrymandered on partisan lines.
 
The resolutions, introduced by state Rep. Cris Dush (R), accuse Justices Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue, Debra McClosky Todd and David Wecht of misbehavior in office.
 
In a memo to fellow House members, Dush said the ruling overriding Pennsylvania’s U.S. House district lines amounted to an overstep of judicial authority under 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.
 
“The five Justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution engaged in misbehavior in office,” Dush wrote to fellow members.
 
In an interview Tuesday, Dush said he had drafted the resolutions shortly after the Supreme Court’s initial order in January. He had hoped to add language from the U.S. Supreme Court, if they took up the case. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied Pennsylvania Republicans’ request to hear a challenge to the state Supreme Court decision.
 
“This is basically 7th grade civics class all over again, the separation of powers and the authority of the legislature,” Dush told The Hill. “The courts basically are there to interpret when there’s conflict in the law, and they don’t have any sovereignty.”
 
The Supreme Court’s January order struck down the existing congressional district maps, under which Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in the 2016 elections. The court gave legislative Republicans just a few weeks to draw new maps, before they imposed district lines drawn by their own special master.
 
“The maps are indeed a piece of legislation. We write it out and we break it out by counties, cities, townships, and even down to the very voting precincts and wards if necessary,” Dush added. “The product the state Supreme Court produced is just a series of maps.”
 
Under the new maps, Democrats are expected to pick up at least two seats.
 
In a statement issued after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Republican challenge, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the new maps imposed by the state court “fair.”
 
“The people of Pennsylvania are tired of gerrymandering and the new map corrects past mistakes that created unfair Congressional Districts and attempted to diminish the impact of citizens’ votes,” Wolf said Monday.
 
But Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, and therefore the impeachment process. Dush said Republican leaders in the state legislature were especially keen to target Wecht, who won election to his ten-year term in 2015 while promising to examine the legality of district maps.
 
“Leadership is definitely interested in going after Wecht because he ran on this as a campaign issue and failed to recuse himself from the order, the opinion or the drawing of the map. So he was fulfilling a campaign promise, that’s for sure,” Dush said.
 
While the legislature is run by Republicans, Democrats hold a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court. 
 
Pennsylvania lawmakers have only impeached one member of the state Supreme Court in the history of the Commonwealth. That vote came in 1994, when the state Supreme Court chief justice was removed from office after being convicted on two counts of conspiracy.
 
The state House has the sole power to impeach justices, and Republicans control 120 of 203 state House seats. Actually removing justices would require a two-thirds vote in the state Senate. Republicans control 34 of the 50 state Senate seats — enough to remove any justice on party-line votes. 
 
Updated on March 21 at 3:35 p.m.