Judicial Independence … Going, Going …

A couple of items crossed my radar yesterday morning.

The Pennsylvania Gerrymandering Case

You might remember my post from February 1st  about gerrymandering in Pennsylvania?  In that post, I told of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ordering legislators to redraw the district maps, but state Senator Joe Scarnati indicated he would ignore the order.   Then, the court went a step further and gave the legislature until February 9th to draw new maps, and the governor until February 15th (today) to approve and submit said maps, else the court would take over the re-districting.  Well, yesterday’s headline read …

Judges Say Throw Out the Map. Lawmakers Say Throw Out the Judges

Republican representative Chris Dush is urging his fellow GOP lawmakers to impeach the five Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who recently ordered the maps to be redrawn.  His memo reads, in part:

“The five Justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, engaged in misbehavior in office.

Wherefore, each is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office and disqualification to hold any office or trust or profit under this Commonwealth. I would ask you to please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation.”

Seriously?  The judges ruled that the current redistricting violated the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene, obviously believing that the State Supreme Court was within its rights.

Actual impeachment seems unlikely, for there are no grounds.  As one Constitutional Law scholar said, “… does not reflect the underlying conditions under which impeachments should even be considered, It seems like a reflection of the broader undermining of judicial powers that are becoming part of the GOP playbook in the last year​.”

The Iowa Courtroom Gun Debate

Last December in Iowa, a running dispute over allowing firearms in courthouses prompted bills by Republican legislators, no doubt funded by the NRA, to slash judges’ pay and require them to personally pay rent for courtrooms that are gun-free.

Yes, you heard right.  Last spring the Iowa legislature passed a new law that allowed concealed weapons to be carried into and around the Iowa Capitol by anyone with a gun permit. The law, which went into effect July 1, includes a paragraph that says anyone whose gun rights are usurped by local ordinance, rule, resolution, motion or policy may sue for damages.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady issued a ruling that banned guns throughout all courthouses, and that was when the legislature threatened to slash the judges salaries and make them pay rent in order to have a gun-free courtroom.  When I think about court cases, angry losers, and those losers having a gun in their belt … I shudder.  It is only a matter or time.

In December, the Iowa Supreme Court backed off from the complete ban, and said guns may be allowed in courthouses under certain restrictions. Guns may be allowed in areas of the courthouse that are not being used by the court system.  Still … just a matter of time, folks.

Just as an aside, Iowans must really like their guns, for the governor, Kim Reynolds, recently blocked legislation that would have limited and controlled guns in childcare centers.  Make any sense to you?  Me either.

supreme courtThe Pattern, the Trend, the Future

Recently, elected officials in some states across the country are increasingly seeking to punish or restrain judges who hand down unfavorable decisions, accusing them of making law instead of interpreting it.  Think back to the two cases I mentioned:  the gerrymandering ruling in Pennsylvania and the courthouse gun ban ruling in Iowa.  Both of those appear to be a valid interpretation of the Constitiution, rather than a set of judges trying to make laws.

According to Constitutional law scholar Bill Raftery, who has studied courts and their histories for years …

“It ultimately boils down to this. The courts are not looked on by some legislators as being an independent branch of government. For some, they’re looked on as an agency that needs to be brought to heel.”

Bernard Grofman, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine who redrew Virginia’s congressional map in 2015 following a federal court finding that districts had been racially gerrymandered:

“This is Trumpism at the lower level. This is the view that if independent branches of government say things that don’t match what you say or do, you fire them; you impeach them; you malign them; you destroy them as best you can.”

The U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1:

The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.

The Judicial branch, as established above, is intended to be independent and mostly free from the executive or legislative branches. They are also to be free from partisan politics, which is why they do not face elections, but are appointed for life, and why their salaries cannot be reduced.  This, as much as anything, is at the foundation of our democracy, and it is being stepped on.

14 thoughts on “Judicial Independence … Going, Going …

  1. Pingback: New Maps for Pennsylvania! | Filosofa's Word

    • Yes, and the hits just keep coming, keep adding up, and people keep wearing their blinders and drinking the Kool-Aid. You are right — this has much to do with my inability to sleep. I did manage 6 hours last night, though, so I woke refreshed and ready to tackle the day until I tried to brush my teeth and … no water. They are repairing a pipe for the third time this month! Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Jill,

    These republicans have to cheat to win, especially if they are part of the Trump Republican Party.

    This means keeping folks who are likely to vote Democrats (like minority groups and immigrants) from obtaining access to the ballot box with laws like requiring IDs; gerrymandering; busting unions like the school teachers’ unions with Charter schools. Do you see a pattern here? Now the courts are keeping these guys in the legal lines and so what do they do? They mount attacks against the courts and the “rule of law.”

    These angry old White men have a hard time accepting the fact that life goes on, that they are not the center of the universe and that their days on this earth are numbered.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yes, I definitely see a pattern, and one that could well break our democracy if these angry old white men don’t die off soon. What worries me is that some of the younger white men seem to be on the same track. Take Paul Ryan, for example. Sometimes I believe that his conscience bothers him, but still, he goes along. I do think that Hillary would have made a huge difference … a positive difference. Ah well, cannot live in the past. Hugs!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh we will, but there are some who will applaud these actions, some who will say that the judicial branch has too much power. Those who are strongly anti-abortion still blame the judiciary for Roe v Wade, and those who are against LGBT rights still blame them for their ruling on same sex marriage. The radicals on the right would like, I believe, to strip the judicial branch of their independence.

      Like

  3. Maybe the GOP members who sign the Pennsylvania memo can be brought before the court if they try to implement it and charged with misbehaviour or something similar that shows them the court is in the right.
    In Iowa the Governor should be charged with putting children in danger and the Legislature fined for reducing judges salaries and charging them rent on a building specifically built for the working of law by the judges, unless they’d like to pay rent for whatever building they occupy to do their jobs.
    Cwtch.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, I agree with your points,. The Pennsylvania gerrymandering case is one that I’m not sure what direction it will take now. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, upholding the State Supreme Court’s ruling, but I believe that now they may have no choice but to hear the case. I won’t even try to predict that outcome just yet, but we are running out of time, with November moving closer every day.

      Both situations in Iowa will, I have no doubt, end in loss of life before somebody decides that guns in the courthouse and in daycare facilities is a bad idea. And evven then, I’m not sure they will wake up. As Suzanne pointed out in a comment, if Sandy Hook wasn’t a wake up call, then apparently nothing will be. Sigh.

      xxx Cwtch xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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