Im­peach­ing 5 jus­tices not so wise a de­ci­sion

The Republican Herald - - OPINION -

Some dis­mayed Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tors have raised the prospect of im­peach­ing all five Demo­cratic jus­tices of the state Supreme Court, claim­ing that the jus­tices usurped their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity for re­draw­ing the bor­ders of the state’s 18 con­gres­sional dis­tricts.

Irony abounds. Since the court ma­jor­ity found that the grotesquely ger­ry­man­dered map con­cocted by Repub­li­cans vi­o­lates the state con­sti­tu­tion’s guar­an­tee of “fair and equal” elec­tions, the leg­is­la­tors ar­gue, in ef­fect, that the con­sti­tu­tion em­pow­ers them to vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tion.

The Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties and some Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress have ap­pealed for a stay of the new map to the U.S. Supreme Court and, in a sep­a­rate pro­ceed­ing, to the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Mid­dle Dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia. As luck would have it in the dis­trict case, they drew a panel of three fed­eral judges who were ap­pointed by Repub­li­can pres­i­dents. But, of course, on the fed­eral side the leg­is­la­tors are re­ly­ing on the law rather than po­lit­i­cal affin­ity.

Re­gard­less of the case, im­peach­ment is a very dan­ger­ous idea. Only one state Supreme Court Jus­tice has been im­peached and re­moved from of­fice in the long and spo­rad­i­cally cor­rupt his­tory of the court. That was Rolf Larsen, af­ter he was con­victed in 1994 of crim­i­nal con­spir­acy in a fraud­u­lent pre­scrip­tion drug scheme.

Im­peach­ing a jus­tice, much less five at once, for a ju­di­cial de­ci­sion would do noth­ing less than up­end the fun­da­men­tal struc­ture of the gov­ern­ment — three equal branches act­ing as checks against one an­other. It would con­vert the ju­di­ciary into a sub­sidiary of the Leg­is­la­ture, deemed le­git­i­mate only so long as it val­i­dated the ma­jor­ity’s poli­cies.

Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers should put the im­peach­ment idea to rest.

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