These letters to the editor were submitted to LebTown in response to a column last week by state Representative Russ Diamond. Read our submission policy here.
State Rep. Russ Diamond’s disingenuous, if not dishonest, letter to the editor (Jan. 21 LebTown) offers a dubious solution – electingSupreme Court judges and other appellate court judges by region instead of statewide — to a problem that doesn’t exist.
First of all, it is nice to see Mr. Diamond give tacit, if not outright, support for Fair Districts PA’s efforts to eliminate gerrymandering, the practice that leaves the crafting of legislative districts to the whims of the political party in charge.
In his letter, Mr. Diamond says his bill, HB38, a proposed Constitutional amendment to change how Pennsylvanians elect appellate judges, would resolve “longstanding inequities” in our current statewide appellate court system. But he does not specify any inequity.
Instead, Mr. Diamond provides a map that shows the number of appellate seats by county. That the populous Philadelphia and Allegheny (Pittsburgh) counties have a total of 15 seats is proof that they are “overrepresented at the expense of the rest of Pennsylvania,” he asserts.
“Overrepresented,” but how? Where is the harm? What appellate court decision does he cite that reveals an inequity? Mr. Diamond does not give us a clue. (The map also shows a remaining 13 seats essentially being from suburban or less populated counties. When looking at it that way, any disparity is not sogreat.)
Mr. Diamond says his Constitutional change, which requires a vote of the people,would “give every region of Pennsylvania an equal voice on these courts.” But that is not the role of an appellate judge. Appellate judges, like all judges, take an oath to uphold the Constitution (U.S. and state), not to any particular region.
Do they interpret the Constitution any differently in Butler County than they do in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh? God help us if they do. To elect appellate judges by region would deny citizens across the state a say on how our courts are set up statewide and limit the election of many highly qualified judges by geography. We may very well be substituting competence for a fake sense of supposed equity.
Since Mr. Diamond can prove no harm in the way appellate judges are currently selected, what might be his motive for the drastic change of amending the state Constitution?
It’s simple. Once such an amendment is approved by voters, a Republican-controlled state Legislature and a Republican governor could at some point divvy up the regions to their political advantage. (Mr. Diamond says his proposal “will require the approval of the Governor,” as if a Republican or Democratic governor would have the final say, but that assertion is not at all clear or certain, and the procedure of how the legislature implements theconstitutional change has yet to be determined.)
To get their way, Mr. Diamond and the Republican leadership are employing tactics of a disgraced ex-president of the United States, whose relationship with the truth was problematic, to say the least.
Mr. Diamond, himself, has employed such tactics in the recent past. Remember his unfounded assertions of “Masks don’t work” and masking amounts to “child abuse.”
Tactics from politicians such as these are a cynical attempt to give one political party an unfair advantage over another by pitting one region of the state against another. It’s a flawed strategy, but it shows the lengths to which some elected representatives will go.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. It is an unconscionable attempt similar to the gerrymandering of legislative districts that our Republican-controlled state Legislature has elevated to an art form.
This issue could be on the ballot as soon as May of this year. Voters, please don’t be fooled by this attempt by Mr. Diamond or anyone else to use partisan politics, misinformation and falsehoods to poison Pennsylvania’s independent judicial system.
Calvin Clements, DVM. CCRP
Calvin Clements is the former Democratic candidate for House District 101.
This letter is in response to Rep Diamond’s letter about the claimed benefits of House Bill (HB) 38 which would amend the commonwealth’s constitution to allow for regional rather than state-wide election of appellate judges.
Firstly, let’s be clear here. This is just the latest gambit by the state Republican Party to politicize the judiciary to get more republicans elected to judgeships. The party has a long, regrettable history of trying to manipulate the judiciary when they don’t like the rulings issued by the courts. They’ve called for Impeachments, attempted to change the retirement age until they realized it would work against them, and now with a possible 6-2 democratic majority on the Supreme Court looming in the November 2021 elections, they have decided that regional elections of judges is what the residents of Pennsylvania need.
Secondly, the proposal is based on a false premise. The judiciary is not a representative body(ies). It is tasked with overseeing and ensuring the administration of justice throughout the commonwealth, not within regions. A judge does not represent a district. A judge does not work on behalf of the residents of one district. Why should a judge be elected only by residents of a specific, limited district. They shouldn’t, of course; we have a legislature for that, we have members of the General Assembly and the Senate to represent us.
Lastly, passing this constitutional amendment would take the commonwealth back 300 years. In the original William Penn constitutions, the state court was under the control of the appointed Governor. The General Assembly, determined to have an independent judiciary, in 1722 refused to raise revenues for the Governor until the independence of the courts was established. Now, 300 years later, we have a member of the General Assembly promoting the destruction of the judiciary’s independence by subsuming it under the control of the General Assembly, which, under the terms of the proposed amendment, would draw the judicial districts.
Every Pennsylvanian should see this proposed amendment for what it is, a cynical ploy to gain political advantage, and reject it.
Thomas Fields lives in South Londonderry Township.