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Representative Russ Diamond (R-102) has since 2018 been blocking bills to fix gerrymandered House districts in Pennsylvania. Now he has a new idea: gerrymander the election of our high court judges, too.
This is a bad idea, for two reasons.
First, gerrymandering concentrates power in the hands of a few party leaders, be they the current majority Republicans or possible future majority Democrats. This power tempts them to work for themselves and for moneyed interests, not for all Pennsylvanians. By gerrymandering legislators’ district lines, leaders create “safe” seats. Legislators in those seats know two things: That they are “safe” from voters because their districts are “packed” with loyal party members. And that they are beholden to the powerful party line-drawers to keep it that way. Well-funded lobbyists in Harrisburg also know this game and pay to keep it going.
Diamond’s bill – which passed the House and Senate on party-line votes – would change the voting for high-court judges from statewide elections to regional district elections. Guess who will draw the judges’ district lines: those same powerful party leaders, thus allowing them to gerrymander and control a second branch of government. We know what comes from the resulting un-checked-and-balanced power – nothing good.
Second, Diamond’s bill ignores a key principle of government: that the judicial branch should be separate and shielded from politics. Pennsylvania is an outlier in politicizing its judiciary. All but five states avoid this by choosing judges differently from Pennsylvania. For example, 23 other states and D.C. select judges from a non-partisan list of highly qualified “merit” candidates, and five states use their governors to appoint judges. Surely, any of these other methods would be better than Diamond’s approach for reforming judicial selection.
Dr. Duncan MacLean is a South Lebanon Township resident.