Impeaching 5 justices not so wise a decision
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.