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Our nation thrives on respect of the justice system, not impeachment

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The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on cases involving gerrymandering—the age-old practice of drawing district lines to help one’s political fortunes.  They may ultimately set the standards, but still the question is what follows.  Here in Pennsylvania, we saw one reaction that we must avoid.   

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that our legislature violated the state constitution when it drew the map back in 2011. According to the Supreme Court, the legislature’s actions violated the Free and Equal Elections Clause. In response, the Court ordered a new map to be drawn.  But, the Justices warned, if the legislature didn’t come up with a new map that met constitutional standards, then the Court itself would redraw the map. The legislature and governor failed to achieve a satisfactory solution, and the Court ultimately re-drew the map. All appeals have been exhausted, through to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania Justices’ ruling stands.

{mosads}Now, there is talk of impeachment in Pennsylvania. Politicians and allies of those on the losing end are seeking to remove — impeach — the justices with whom they disagree. This is a recipe for disaster. 


A free nation depends on an independent judiciary and the rule of law. Threats to impeach justices based on politicians’ disagreement over legal rulings are fully antithetical to the principles that make our nation great. 

In my election law class at Villanova Law, we discuss and debate hot topics on subjects ranging from campaign finance to voting rights. Week after week we see cases from all over the country and across various points in time. From Bush v. Gore to the famous campaign finance case Citizens United, we see that the winners celebrate and the losers vow to challenge; but we move on and move forward. When the Supreme Court rules on other controversial topics like the death penalty, abortion rights, and free speech, we move on and move forward. We don’t impeach judges that way.

As the U.S. Supreme Court declared 200 years ago in Marbury v. Madison, “It is emphatically the province and the duty of the judicial branch to say what the law is.” In that case, the Court established the power of the courts, and the key principle that when the courts speak, we must follow the rule of law, as it has declared. In order for our system to function, our courts and judges must work independently, without fear of reprisals. They are not perfect. But they are essential.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Tom Saylor dissented in the redistricting case—he was in the minority who disagreed with the ruling.  Yet he spoke clearly in defense of his colleagues and our system: “Threats of impeachment directed at Justices because of their decision in a particular case are an attack upon an independent judiciary, which is an essential component of our constitutional plan of government.”

Those who seek to impeach Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Justices are not likely to succeed in the end, but their actions reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the greatness of our nation. The point is not that you can always win in court, but that you can always have an independent court where you can be heard, no matter how rich or poor, famous or anonymous, well-connected or not, you are.  Likewise, when the U.S. Supreme Court rules, we will have to move forward, whichever way they rule.  And when the lower federal courts and state courts make subsequent decisions with guidance form the U.S. Supreme Court, we must respect the rule of law.

The rule of law, as declared by the courts, is what makes us great. No other nation has lived for so long, with such great strength as ours, with these safeguards. It is uniquely American and deserving of protection. 

If we want to protest their rulings, we have other means such as voting and advocacy. And when the system runs its course, like it or not, we must respect the ruling by an independent judicial branch.

Mark C. Alexander is the Arthur J. Kania Dean and Professor of Law at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law.

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