Pennsylvania G.O.P.’s Push for More Power Over Judiciary Raises Alarms

In Judiciary and Courts, States On
- Updated

When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously rejected a Republican attempt to overturn the state’s election results in November, Justice David N. Wecht issued his own pointed rebuke, condemning the G.O.P. effort as “futile” and “a dangerous game.”

“It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters,” wrote Justice Wecht, a Democrat who was elected to a 10-year term on the bench in 2016. “Courts should not decide elections when the will of the voters is clear.”

Now Pennsylvania Republicans have a plan to make it less likely that judges like Justice Wecht get in their way.

G.O.P. legislators, dozens of whom supported overturning the state’s election results to aid former President Donald J. Trump, are moving to change the entire way that judges are selected in Pennsylvania, in a gambit that could tip the scales of the judiciary to favor their party, or at least elect judges more inclined to embrace Republican election challenges.

The proposal would replace the current system of statewide elections for judges with judicial districts drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature. Those districts could empower rural, predominantly conservative areas and particularly rewire the State Supreme Court, which has a 5-to-2 Democratic lean.

Democrats are now mobilizing to fight the effort, calling it a thinly veiled attempt at creating a new level of gerrymandering — an escalation of the decades-old practice of drawing congressional and state legislative districts to ensure that political power remains in one party’s hands. Democrats are marshaling grass-roots opposition, holding regular town hall events conducted over Zoom, and planning social media campaigns and call-in days to legislators, as well as an enormous voter education campaign. One group, Why Courts Matter Pennsylvania, has cut a two-minute infomercial.

Republicans in Pennsylvania have historically used gerrymandering to maintain their majority in the legislature, despite Democratic victories in statewide elections. Republicans have controlled the State House of Representatives since 2011 and the State Senate since 1993.

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