In a sickening development, Pennsylvania Republicans at all levels are now calling for members of the state Supreme Court to be impeached, simply because the justices lawfully interpreted the state’s constitution to find that Pennsylvania Republicans had designed their congressional map to improperly entrench their party in power. Even the state’s top GOP elected official, Sen. Pat Toomey, is now talking impeachment. Calling the court’s ruling a “blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power-grab,” Toomey said on Wednesday morning that impeachment “is a conversation that has to happen.”
Indeed, it already is. Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court elected not to block the Pennsylvannia Supreme Court's ruling from taking effect, Republican state Rep. Cris Dush issued an official memorandum asking his colleagues to support him in impeaching the five justices who determined the GOP’s map was unconstitutional. And this wasn’t just a lone legislator going rogue: The speaker of the state House, Mike Turzai, refused to rule out acting on Dush’s proposal.
From there, the drumbeat against the rule of law has only grown. On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, bitter that the district his GOP colleagues had hand-drawn to be comfortably red had now been made more competitive, added his voice to the chorus, telling a reporter that “he would support impeaching the justices who imposed the map.” Costello further whined that the justices “knew they had to rig it against me,” and howled that the map—which was drawn by an independent expert who relied on nonpartisan criteria—was “1,000 percent partisan” and a Democratic gerrymander in “disguise.” Costello even attacked the very legitimacy of the court itself, saying, “This isn’t democracy, this is political corruption.”
He was soon joined by none other than the chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, Val DiGiorgio, who—unprompted—declared in an interview, “I think it might be time to start thinking about impeachment for some of these judges that are overstepping their bounds.” And now this burgeoning movement even has Toomey, a sitting senator, in its corner.
But what bounds, exactly, did the court overstep? These justices were lawfully elected by the citizens of Pennsylvania to, among other things, interpret the state’s constitution. In their view, the gerrymander that Republicans passed in 2011 violated the constitution, and so they ordered a new, fairer map be drawn.
But to Republicans, that’s entirely illegitimate. After decades of eliminationist rhetoric deligitimizing the very right of their ideological opponents to even hold opposing views, it only fits that Republicans see any adverse judicial ruling as fundamentally improper. It is, in fact, the ultimate act of projection: When a court determines that Republicans have engaged in illegal behavior, Republicans themselves turn around and accuse the courts of acting illegaly.
It’s a revolting assault on the rule of law, but it’s been part of the Republican playbook for a long time—and they’ve only been amping up their attacks on our democratic institutions in the Trump era. And here’s the truly terrifying part: They could actually do this. It only takes a simple majority in the state House to commence impeachment proceedings, and a two-thirds vote in the state Senate to remove judges from the bench.
Republicans control both chambers of the legislature, and they even have a supermajority in the Senate—thanks to the very same sort of partisan gerrymanders that the Supreme Court struck down on the congressional level. Right now, the only thing holding them back is the possibility that such a naked attack on the judiciary could inspire a backlash at the ballot box this fall. But otherwise, Pennsylvania Republicans and their ill-gotten majorities are free to shred democracy as they see fit. And that should terrify us all.