At our nation’s founding, Pennsylvania was center stage. From the debates in Philadelphia over the Declaration and the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin and William Penn, to the Whiskey Rebellion and the Cumberland Road, Pennsylvania led the way.
Now it seems, Pennsylvania has adopted a new direction to lead. That pivot occurred in 2015, when Democrats, labor unions and billboard trial lawyers got together and bought three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. To their credit, they saw the opportunity and they grabbed it, while Republicans and the business community could muster only faint resistance.
What’s happened since has been stark. Precedent hasn’t held much value for this new Democrat majority on the court. Years of insurance case law and legislative reform were thrown out the window to ensure victims received “fair” compensation, while their lawyers always took one-third. But more important for Pennsylvania has been the systematic erosion of their political rights by a Supreme Court intent on accruing that power to itself.
But back to the nation’s founding for a second. Pennsylvania’s State Constitution is older than the United States Constitution. That document, as interpreted by more than 200 years of State Supreme Court precedent, definitively construed the term “offer to vote” to mean that the elector must “physically present a ballot at a polling place.” Other articles and amendments to the constitution later permitted absentee voting for specific and limited purposes, and the historical practice of election administration reflects those exceptions. The words of the Constitution were reinforced, time after time, in decisions by the court, until the present day.
When asked to approve no-excuse, universal, mail-in voting, five Democrat Justices lined up to say yes. When asked to throw out legislatively crafted Congressional district lines, five Democrat Justices lined up to say yes. Both times, the Democrat majority on the court ignored precedent and gave birth to new meanings of well-established Constitutional language. They did so, hoping to be the vanguard of a new movement on the left. One that uses the “free and equal elections” clauses in state constitutions to mandate some kind of proportional representation of the population by party in the legislatures. This interpretation is without basis in history and deserves to be rejected by courts across this country.
Let us hope the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on these matters remains an outlier, isn’t adopted outside of the Commonwealth, and is rejected when more Constitutionalists take the bench in the future.