Pennsylvanians will not be voting for President, or electing a Governor or U.S. Senator this year. But there are five statewide offices that recent events prove are every bit as important – and perhaps have an even bigger impact on our daily lives – as those higher profile offices.
This being an odd numbered year the focus will be on the judicial branch of government. Voters statewide will be electing a state Supreme Court Justice, two judges of the Commonwealth Court and a judge on the state Superior Court.
In past years, aside from vested special interests and political insiders, very little attention has been paid to these races. The result, especially with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, has been an activist judicial bench more given to legislating than adjudicating.
First, a civics lesson: the judiciary in Pennsylvania begins at the local level with Magisterial District Judges who handle minor cases such as traffic tickets, and sometimes determine whether there is enough evidence for a person charged with a crime to be bound over to Common Pleas Court. The county Courts of Common Pleas are the next tier in the judicial structure and the level which is most visible and where most cases are handled.
The next step up the judicial ladder is the statewide appellate courts which include Commonwealth and Superior Court. Those intermediate appellate courts, simply put, handle civil and criminal appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas along with some regulatory issues.
Atop the judicial pyramid sits the state Supreme Court. That court accepts very few cases for review raising the importance of the Commonwealth and Superior courts as the venues of last resort. Thus cases heard by the state Supreme Court are those of the most significant legal and constitutional importance.
There was a time when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was an esteemed bench of jurists of highest repute. That is no longer the case. In the early to middle years of the last decade a number of justices were forced to resign from that bench for various misdeeds including sending or receiving e-mails containing pornography.
Amid that disgrace organized labor poured millions into low profile races to replace the offending justices successfully ensconcing three highly political judicial activists on the bench. The election of 2015 also marked the end of the Republican majority on the high court as Democrats seized a 5-2 advantage.
Thus were planted the seeds of the court’s run of politically tinged decisions. In 2018 the new Democrat majority fulfilled a campaign promise by declaring the state’s congressional redistricting plan to be unconstitutional. Despite clear constitutional language giving the legislature the power to draw those lines the court instead appointed a Left-wing college professor from California to draw a new map which they then imposed by judicial fiat.
As state lawmakers struggled to end Governor Tom Wolf’s emergency powers related to the COVID-19 pandemic the Supreme Court again effectively rewrote state law by ruling that plain language giving the legislature the sole power to end such declarations didn’t mean what it said. Instead, the court ruled the Governor has the power to sign or veto such a resolution thus allowing his draconian policies to remain in effect.
Voters likely will have the last say in that matter as a proposed constitutional amendment giving the legislature the clear authority to regulate such emergency declarations will be on the May primary ballot for approval.
Last year the Supreme Court so effectively rewrote state election law that one lawmaker half-jokingly suggested the justices be named “Legislators of the Year.” In clear contravention of the law the justices allowed the counting of ballots for up to three days after the General Election, invalidated signature requirements, and struck the Green Party’s presidential candidate from the ballot all to bolster Democratic efforts to win the state for Joe Biden, which he did.
And so Pennsylvanians have witnessed a decade of corruption and political activism by our Supreme Court. The one seat up for election this year is one of the two held by Republicans so it won’t tilt the balance on the court.
But it is vitally important that we begin the process of cleansing the state’s appellate courts of judicial activists and replacing them with constitutionalists who will restore integrity and balance to the judicial branch.
Voters will have that opportunity this year.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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