A few days ago, I posted an update on Senate Bill 22, the gerrymandering reform bill. In that post, I talked about my history on this issue and my fervent hope that I could vote for true reform. I expressed some serious concerns with the amended version of the bill that existed at that time and said I could not support the bill if it did not change.
Yesterday morning I arrived in Harrisburg and attended a press conference in the rotunda on SB 22. I lurked and hovered around, literally not sure if I could support the bill. I was reassured, however, that things had changed sufficiently to address my concerns and I stood on the steps with other supporters of the bill. When I saw the actual wording of the new “Folmer Amendment” I still had concerns, but it was better, and in the name of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, I was prepared to support it.
Then, the Republicans dropped a nuclear bomb.
They suddenly indicated that they were going to amend the Aument Amendment to SB 22. The Aument Amendment says that instead of electing Supreme Court Justices, and Judges on the Commonwealth and Superior Courts statewide as we currently do, they would be elected by “Judicial Districts.” There would be seven Supreme Court districts, nine Commonwealth Court and 15 Superior Court districts.
These districts would be drawn by the commission. But as I wrote previously, I believe the commission is set up in a way that makes failure to agree likely, in which case, it goes to the legislature. But it’s even worse than that. The law allows the “legislature” by simple majority, not two-thirds, to add seats to the Superior or Commonwealth Courts at any time (the number of seven Supreme Court Justices is set in the constitution) and change the district lines in any way the majority wishes to change them, so long as all districts have the same population.
This amendment, which passed into SB 22 on a party-line vote today, is a deal-breaker. I can’t vote for a bill with that in it. I doubt any Democrats can. It is profoundly ironic that the Republicans would use a bill designed to end the scourge of gerrymandering, to gerrymander the judiciary.
They are doing this because they are unhappy that the Democrats control the Supreme Court 5-2. They don’t like their rulings and they don’t like that the Democratic majority will appoint the fifth vote on the state redistricting commission under current law.
Under the Aument Amendment, on the Supreme Court there will be Democratic Philly and Pittsburgh seats, and five seats drawn to elect Republican Justices, so that they are in the majority in perpetuity. A similar fate awaits the lower appellate courts.
I spoke against the Aument Amendment on the floor today. If you have the emotional energy to watch it, here it is. I’m going home to drown my sorrows in non-alcoholic beer and organic cheese puffs. Somedays what we do here makes me so sad.