Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Pa. Republican state legislator moves to impeach four state Supreme Court justices

The representative argued that the justices violated the separation of powers.

Congressional districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, changed significantly for this year’s elections, are only part of a broader, ongoing gerrymander tale.
Congressional districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, changed significantly for this year’s elections, are only part of a broader, ongoing gerrymander tale.Read moreStaff Graphic

HARRISBURG — One day after federal courts declined to block the new congressional map from taking effect, a Republican state representative introduced resolutions to impeach the four Democrats on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court who ruled to impose the map in time for the May 15 primary.

Rep. Cris Dush, of Jefferson County, introduced the measures against Justices Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty, Debra Todd, and David Wecht.

The justices, along with fellow Democrat Max Baer, voted to strike down the old map of congressional districts, ruling they were unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. But a second vote by the four imposed a new map for the May 15 primary. Baer dissented on that second plank in the ruling; Republican Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Thomas Saylor dissented on both decisions.

Political analysts say the new design is expected to boost Democrats' chances to regain control of the U.S. House.

How far Dush's bill could go is unclear. First, the full House would have to find the justices had committed impeachable offenses, and then the justices would face a trial before the state Senate. Convicting and removing them from office would require the approval of two-thirds of senators present. Republicans hold a 34-16 majority in the chamber.

Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) declined to comment Tuesday, noting that if articles of impeachment were to pass the House — which would require only a simple majority — he and other senators would act as jurors. "We, obviously, are supposed to be impartial listening to that evidence," he said.

Dush, who began promoting the idea of impeachment in early February, said he waited until the legal challenges to the maps were resolved "because we did not want to be seen as trying to influence the court." That closure came Monday, when both the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal District Court in Harrisburg rejected petitions from Republicans to overturn the new map.

Republicans have repeatedly argued that the Democratic-led Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it imposed a new congressional map. Dush says he thinks the state high court's actions violated the principle of separation of powers established under the state constitution. "This is basically junior high civics course material," he said.

"If the court is willing to overstep on this element to their benefit, at some point, when the court shifts, there will be probably a willingness on the part of the court to go the other way and cite this action on the part of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as precedent in order to do it," he added later.

Asked Tuesday about the impeachment resolution, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said: "We will have to review the evidence and check whether all of the leaders and 102 members of the House want to pursue that remedy. It is not a decision to be made lightly, and we have not had those discussions."

Dush's resolutions drew a quick rebuke from Democrats. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) called the resolutions "an absurd attack on common sense."

"It's an attack on the independence of every judge in our state, one of the bedrock principles of our democracy," Dermody said in a statement. "If pursued, this would be a clear and present danger to the administration of justice in Pennsylvania."

But Democrats don't control the chamber. Among the 200 sitting representatives — three seats are vacant — Democrats account for only 81.