In October 2016, as President Obama’s days in office waned, the Democratic National Committee announced plans to combat Republican gains previously made at the state levels. With full support of the President and Democratic Governors Association, former Attorney General Eric Holder became chair of the newly formed National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Holder began to coordinate a strategy for impacting elections through campaign activities, ballot initiatives, and challenges to state election maps. The goal was to impact the outcome of the 2018 mid-term elections and beyond by returning more power and positions to the Democrats.
In Pennsylvania, the NDRC began recruiting individuals to be party to a challenge to the current congressional map; a map passed in a bi-partisan fashion in 2011 which had already stood court tests on constitutionality. Together with the League of Women Voters – and it’s well past the time that the LWV or its chapters should be allowed to call themselves non-partisan – challenges were made to the PA courts.
A case wound its way through the Commonwealth’s judicial system and brought us to recent events where the PA Supreme Court ruled the congressional map unconstitutional, directed the legislature and Governor Wolf to create a new map, and determined to impose its own map if those entities could not agree within a few weeks. During this time the Supreme Court retained the services of a cartographer to produce its own map. Predictably, the process failed and on Monday the court mandated use of its own map.
Why Do We Care?
Underlying what some may see as the natural disagreement between members of the major parties lies a foundational issue. The United States, and the Commonwealth of PA by extension, is a republic. It is not a democracy. Don’t be fooled into thinking the two are interchangeable either in language or practice. Girding the republic is a separation and balance of powers.
The goal of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to undermine the rule of law, transform the Republic, and use the partisanship of state courts to incrementally create a different America. In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court has been party to these changes.
The Commonwealth faces a Constitutional Crisis in which the PA Supreme Court has taken upon itself the power to make legislative and executive decisions. Supreme Court of the United States will now decide what action to take on the current Republican appeal and that will determine what map we use in elections. We hope SCOTUS recognizes separation of powers; specifically, that Article 1 of the US Constitution be upheld: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof;”
If such a dramatic erosion of separation of powers is allowed to stand, where will it stop? Will the partisan PA Supreme Court dictate to the legislature on taxation and spending issues? Will it determine its own fair school funding formula? As our founders knew, it is unlikely any branch of government will restrain itself left unchecked. Why would the PA Supreme Court be any different?