Call it inter-branch, intra-party warfare under the Capitol dome:

First the state Supreme Court threw out the Republican-crafted legislative district maps. Then last week, the GOP-majority court ordered the state House speaker to call special elections to fill six vacant legislative seats — and told him when to hold them.

Enough was enough, said Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson). The court's majority opinion "seems intent on creating a constitutional collision between two of the three constitutionally created co-equal branches of government," Smith, in an unusual, Federalist Papers-quoting statement. "Make no mistake, they are tipping the scales of power in their own favor."

His tirade came after the court, on a 4-3 vote, ordered the special elections held on the April 24 primary. Smith went on to accuse the court of having an "activist majority" which — in the words of Federalist Paper No. 78 — substituted "their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature."

Chief Justice Ronald J. Castille, in an interview Friday voiced dismay at Smith's action. "I am shocked at the nature of the response," said Castille, a Republican. "This is an ad hominem attack on the court's ruling." He added: "We decide issues under the constitution that are brought to us. Issuing an opinion does not make us activist judges."

Smith said the court, by reverting to 2001 district maps, was short-changing minorities, particularly Hispanics whose population has grown in the past decade. Castille countered that the districts with empty seats (four of which are in Philadelphia and its suburbs) have had no representation since January — "In all, 360,000 people have no voice," he said.

As for the rift between two branches of government, the chief justice said: "We'll get over it."

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