EDITORIAL: Nix Pa. GOP plan to ‘gerrymander’ court

York Dispatch Editorial Board
The dome inside the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is seen in this file photo.

From voter suppression to gerrymandered political districts to deep-sixing the U.S. Senate filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, Republicans have made an art of bending, breaking and changing rules that might keep them from power.

Pennsylvania’s state-level Republicans are no different.

Having been called out a few years ago for egregiously gerrymandered political districts, GOP office holders are now setting their sights on “gerrymandering” the body that ruled against them: The state Supreme Court.

Legislation being crafted in the Republican-controlled General Assembly would send to voters an amendment to the state constitution that would change the way justices are elected to their 10-year seats.

Instead of being elected by voters statewide, as they are now, candidates would run from regional districts in which they live.

The reasons for this otherwise-out-of-the-blue measure are as obvious as the potential benefits to state Republicans: The state’s two biggest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, are home to not only sizeable majorities of registered Democrats, but all five Democratic justices on the seven-member bench. Regional districts would not only winnow these five seats down to two, they would open up as many as five new districts in more suburban and rural (read: more Republican) parts of the state.

Needless to say, that’s not how Republican sponsors are selling the legislation. They argue the change would bring greater geographic and ideological diversity on the court.

Of course, Pennsylvania’s voters could do just that at the ballot box absent any meddling with the state constitution.

In reality, the bill’s backers are less concerned with diversity than majority.

Following the 2020 U.S. Census, the state’s political districts will once again need to be redrawn. Republicans benefited enormously from a state Supreme Court GOP majority when crafting a post-2010 electoral map that gifted them with a 13-5 congressional majority in a state where Democrats held a roughly 4-3 enrollment advantage.

They’d need to fast-track the current bill to benefit similarly during the next redistricting go-around. Constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania need to be passed by two successive legislatures before going to voters. That would mean passing the bill this year — the House has already done so — maintaining GOP majorities in both houses this November, passing it again early next year and getting it on the ballot in May or, more likely, November 2021.

And since constitutional amendments do not require gubernatorial approval, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen will remain holstered.

Timing aside, geographical judicial districts are an unnecessary and baldly political exercise that solve a problem that doesn’t exist (unless one deems having state voters accurately represented at the judicial level a problem).

Whenever this latest GOP example of revising rules for partisan benefit reaches the voters of Pennsylvania — if it reaches them at all — it should soundly and roundly defeated.