In an astonishing development, Pennsylvania’s Republican state House speaker, Mike Turzai, is now saying his party will actively consider impeaching four state Supreme Court justices who struck down the GOP’s congressional gerrymander. On Tuesday, a dozen Republican state legislators filed legislation on Tuesday to carry out this undemocratic power grab, but rather than reject it out-of-hand, Turzai is allowing it to move forward.
Impeachment remains an unlikely outcome: Republicans hold the bare minimum two-thirds majority in the state Senate to remove the justices, so it would only take a single Republican senator to block an impeachment effort. But a simple majority in the House is all that’s needed to refer impeachment to the upper chamber, and democracy shouldn’t have to rely on whether a Republican legislator is willing to buck his own party.
And even if this effort doesn’t succed, it’s still an ominous sign that Republican leaders are even contemplating such an attack on the rule of law instead of immediately denouncing it. The justices did nothing but lawfully interpret the state constitution’s guarantee of “free and equal” elections in striking down one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the modern era and replacing it with a much fairer map—an outcome that can only boost civic participation and strengthen democracy in the Keystone State.
Judges in a democracy should never be impeached for their jurisprudence. Doing so sends a chilling message that undermines the very principle of judicial independence. Even if Republicans don’t ultimately act on this disturbing threat, it only serves to normalize the concept of removing judges in the future who issue rulings that Republicans dislike—and it’s yet another escalation of widespread Republican attacks on state-level judicial independence over the past decade.