This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
Republican legislators are angry that Pennsylvania’s high courts ruled against them. Now they want a constitutional amendment to let them choose their own judges.
House Bill 38 passed the judiciary committee Jan. 13 on a 13 to 12 vote. If it passes the full House and Senate by Feb. 18, if could appear on the May 18 primary ballot.
The law would allow the legislature to divide the higher courts into regions, with party leaders drawing the lines for their own benefit. They would use the same methods which the majority party uses to draw legislative districts, like the notorious “Goofy kicking Donald” twisted contortion which drew national attention to the dangers of gerrymandering.
For instance, if legislators decide they don’t like the way a particular judge rules, they could redraw district lines to shut him out. They would choose their judges, like they now choose their voters. It’s all because they are mad that state courts threw out their attempts to overthrow the election and their challenges to pandemic safety measures.
Lebanon County state representative Russ Diamond is the prime sponsor of HB38. This is the same lawmaker who tried to convince people not to wear masks during a deadly pandemic. He helped spread false rumors that the presidential election was not fair, even though 62 lawsuits, the US Supreme Court, the US attorney general, and every election official in every county in the state said it was.
Diamond argues that we need more geographical diversity in our appellate courts. But we have the local Courts of Common Pleas to take care of local issues. The appeals courts are supposed to rule for the state as a whole, and we want judges who are best able to interpret the law, not pit regions against each other. As far as concerns over a partisan divide, 16 of the current higher court judges are Republicans, and 14 are Democrats.
Diamond says citizens should get to decide at the voting booth if they want this change. But primaries in off-year elections tend to be sparsely attended. It is quite likely that those going to the polls will have little understanding of this legislation or its ramifications.
There have been no public hearings on this bill. There has been no debate. No judge has weighed in with their thoughts. It’s an attempt to quietly rush through a major change to give the legislature power over the judiciary and disrupt the balance between the three branches of government.
Passing this amendment would give unchecked power to a few party leaders in the legislature that have majority control. It would threaten judicial independence. It would increase extreme partisanship. It is irresponsible to rush this Constitutional amendment through for a vote without open hearings and discussion. Contact your legislator and let them know this is wrong and needs to be reconsidered before taking any further action.
Please contact your representatives to say no to HB38. Stop judicial gerrymandering.
Monica von Dobeneck is a retired newspaper reporter. She lives in South Londonderry Township.