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.
The 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.