by Lowman S. Henry | October 25, 2021

By Lowman S. Henry

In just a few days voters will go to the polls and decide who will serve in one of the most powerful positions in state government.  We won’t be electing a governor or even someone who will be tabbed as a legislative leader.  We will be electing a Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court seat, along with a seat on the Superior Court and two seats on Commonwealth Court are on the statewide ballot.  The judiciary, a co-equal branch of state government, is often overlooked by voters as elections to those benches occur in a so-called “off year” elections with the races themselves tending to be low key affairs.

Recent events, however, have shown that the state’s appellate courts can and do have as profound an impact on our daily lives as does the executive and legislative branches.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Governor Tom Wolf exercised dictatorial powers implementing policies that had a devastating impact on businesses and trampled the individual rights of every Pennsylvanian.  The Republican-controlled legislature tried valiantly to counter the governor’s draconian policies, but virtually every effort ended with a gubernatorial veto.

The balance of power lay with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  It wasn’t a fair fight.  In 2015 a coalition of labor unions and trial lawyers caught the GOP napping and essentially purchased three seats on the high court.  The new justices have proven to be Left wing activists and consistently ruled in the governor’s favor thus prolonging the negative impact of the pandemic.

Voters ultimately had the final say approving two constitutional amendments that curtailed the governor’s emergency powers and some semblance of order was finally restored.  But the damage had been done.

This was not the first time the rogue Supreme Court Justices have run roughshod over the state constitution.  Although there was no constitutional basis for them to do so in 2018 they threw out Pennsylvania’s congressional district map, hired a Left wing college professor from California to gerrymander new district lines, and imposed a new map by judicial fiat.  This resulted in a net pick-up of Democratic seats.

Again in 2020 the justices put their thumbs on the electoral scale.  In a series of rulings they assisted Democrat Joe Biden by tossing the Green Party’s presidential candidate off the ballot. Without the constitutional authority to do so, they extended the period of time for General Election ballots to be received and counted.  This ensured a Joe Biden win, but destroyed voter confidence in our electoral system.

The recent behavior of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has clearly demonstrated two things:  First, what they do matters and has significant consequences.  Second, despite their carefully constructed veneer of impartiality courts are as political as the other two branches of government.

Pennsylvania’s appellate court system consists of three courts: the Supreme Court; the Superior Court which hears civil and criminal appeals from the county courts of common pleas; and the Commonwealth Court which hears litigation involving governmental affairs.  Democrats have a 5-2 advantage on the Supreme Court; Superior Court is somewhat evenly divided; and Republicans hold the advantage on the Commonwealth Court.

In theory the political make-up of the various benches should not matter.  And, on balance the Superior and Commonwealth courts tend to stick to the constitution and the law – which are the metrics upon which judges should rule.  But, as we have seen, the Supreme Court has frequently tossed the constitution into the dust bin and appropriated unto itself what are essentially legislative powers.

That is why this year’s appellate court races matter.  Recent campaign expense reports show some $5 million having been spent so far by entities supporting either Republican Kevin Brobson or Democrat Maria McLaughlin. That might sound like a lot of money, but, for example, Attorney General Josh Shapiro already has $10 million in his campaign fund for a gubernatorial race that is a year away.

Chances are most voters know little about either Brobson or McLaughlin not to mention the six candidates vying for the Superior and Commonwealth Court seats.  But these races are critically important.  Voters should take the days remaining until the ballots are cast on November 2nd to learn more about the court candidates so they can make an informed decision on Election Day.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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