PA Republicans Attack the Judicial System Over Gerrymandering (An Opinion Piece)

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Gerrymandered distrcts pa

The Pennsylvania state court struck down gerrymandered districts and Republican state lawmakers have gone ballistic. After their appeals were rejected by the (Democratic majority) state and (Republican majority) supreme courts, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are now trying it again, filing appeals with federal and supreme courts to stay the order, and would probably appeal to any other court that would hear them. They’re even officially calling for the impeachment of four (4) state justices.

The courts have finally, after 7 years, made a substantial and long-overdue decision on the court case against the mind-numbingly gerrymandered voting districts in Pennsylvania. Anyone with eyesight could see that many of the districts are twisted, contorted, choked, and demonstrably tortured for the partisan benefit of Republican party candidates – and the court agreed. Republicans have now controlled 70% of the representatives even though they only have 44% of the registered voters. Voter suppression – which is what gerrymandering is – is the most oppressive, the most invasive, most offensive violation against the most basic of our civil rights in America – the right to vote and have our vote count – and the court agreed.

But immediately after the court decision to overturn the district maps, Republican state Senator Scarnati threw a temper tantrum. His complaint – at least ostensibly – was that a court would have the audacity, the temerity, to overrule legislation – to overrule a legislature. He railed based on the rationale that the court is “attempting to play the role of ‘lawmaker'”. Scarnati said he would not comply with at least part of the order and declared the court’s ruling “unconstitutional”.

He accused the court of legislating from the bench, but then the legislator hypocritically declared a court ruling “unconstitutional.”

Does he not know that the role of the court is to do just that – to overrule legislation?

Does he not know that the role of legislator is to make legislation, not adjudicate from the legislature?

Contempt of Court

Scarnati refused to comply with at least part of the court order. How is that not contempt of court?

A common citizen wouldn’t defy a court order. So why would a man who is supposed to be a distinguished, educated leader, a politician, a state Senator, defy a court order? How can one Senator just refuse to follow a court order, and no other Senators (Republican or Democratic) do anything about it? Why aren’t state Democrats calling for the court to raise contempt of court charges against Scarnati and the Republicans?

Also, he said that he would also not comply with the part of the court order that required him to turn over certain data.

In his response letter to the court, Scarnati first said he would not turn over any data in the Court’s orders – then it said in a footnote “Senator Scarnati does not possess” any such data. Why would he say he would not turn over data that he does not possess??

Dangerous Precedent

Scarnati’s logic is flawed (and reeks of desperation). He argued that if the law says that a type of legislation is created by a legislature, that means it cannot be overruled by the court – because that would be “legislating from the bench.”

But if the court cannot overturn unconstitutional legislation, who can? If the court cannot determine and rule authoritatively regarding the constitutionality of legislation, who can? The same people who made that law? What then, would be the role of the court?

 The destructive significance of Scarnati’s behavior goes even beyond contempt of court. If this line of reasoning is allowed to stand, it will set a catastrophic precedent – the precedent that courts can’t overrule legislation. That would be to effectively and literally disable the judicial system.


It is stunning and incredulous that Senator Scarnati and the Republicans in the state Senate are behaving in such an immature, dangerous, rebellious, and outwardly contemptuous manner toward the courts. He is outraged that the supreme court of the state would tell him – the Great Scarnati – what he can and can’t do. He even goes so far as to respond by pretending to be a court justice – he knows better than the judges what is and isn’t constitutional. How can a state senator declare a court order unconstitutional? He criticizes the court for legislating, yet he is a legislator adjudicating from the legislature.

What Scarnati and the Republicans are doing cannot be allowed to stand. If they can get away with defying the courts this time, they will continue to do it in the future – both in Pennsylvania and across the nation. They are attempting to prevent the court from doing its job – the job of checking the power of the legislature. The court makes decisions – that’s its job – and that job includes oversight of legislation – and of the legislature.

This is about the legitimacy, the efficacy, the essence, the existence of the judicial system itself. If the court can’t make rulings or enforce its own rulings, it has been rendered ineffective, invisible, useless, impotent. Allowing this type of behavior, this type of reasoning, sets an extremely dangerous precedent – but only if is allowed – or accepted.

Do not be fooled by this line of reasoning. Do not allow this type of behavior to stand. The system of checks and balances is under assault. The authority of the courts over the legislature must be defended and protected. The courts must ensure enforcement of their rulings.


Dean Miller