Costly Justice Race Shows Power of State Supreme Court | News, Sports, Jobs
Voters submitting or filling out ballots on Tuesday may not pay much attention to races in state courts – but powerful donors and political actors are watching.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, dominated 5-2 by justices who ran as Democrats, plays an important role in heavily divided Harrisburg. For Democrats, it is a last line of defense against an opposition that firmly controls the General Assembly and is running for governor. For Republicans, it’s a thorn in the side that prevents sweeping legislative changes.
Tuesday’s election won’t change much in court, with only one retired Republican judge and both sides vying for his seat. But it drew millions of dollars in campaign money, a fierce campaign, and controversial ads.
Democrat Maria McLaughlin faces Republican Kevin Brobson for the open seat. Several candidates compete in the Lower Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court, both of which render important decisions that sometimes end up in the hands of the Supreme Court.
The two top contenders raised millions of dollars, with McLaughlin having the backing of Philadelphia-area lawyers and state unions and Brobson aided by the GOP and its agents’ political action committees.
For many Pennsylvania voters, the importance of the state Supreme Court became fully visible in 2018, when the High Court declared the existing congressional map unconstitutional. In a decision that shocked and outraged conservatives, the court released a new map that divided the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to more closely reflect party divisions of voters.
Since then, Republican lawmakers have acted on several occasions to shake up the High Court.
Weeks after the card’s decision, then-representative Cris Dush, now a Republican senator, decided to remove four of the court’s five Democrats. The effort drew criticism and was unsuccessful, but other Republicans have since proposed reforms that could help weaken the Democratic tilt of the court.
Earlier this year, State Representative Russ Diamond R-Annville proposed a constitutional amendment that would establish judicial districts for the highest courts in the state, with judges serving regionally rather than for office statewide. Such a change could guarantee the Conservatives at least a handful of places.
Diamond’s amendment was tabled in March after passing 13-12 in committee. He has not been raised since.
While the measures to outright dismiss the judges or reorganize their electoral process met with skepticism even from their Republican colleagues, both parties did everything they could to seize the only seat open on Tuesday.
Perhaps it is part of a Pennsylvania tradition: The 2015 state Supreme Court race cost more than $ 16 million, a national court record at the time.
The legislator seeks a coal heating plan
A UK plan to turn abandoned coal mines into community heat sources could be explored in Pennsylvania, if a state lawmaker succeeds.
The village of Seaham, in the north of England, is expected to be a showcase at an upcoming United Nations climate conference. Engineers are working to transform the city’s long-abandoned, water-filled coal mines into sources of domestic heat.
Geothermal technology would pull water from mines, heat it, and then pump it directly into homes and businesses.
In a proposal to his colleagues this month, Representative Joe Webster, D-Perkiomen, supported a state study on the feasibility of the plan in Pennsylvania. Modernizing the state’s vast network of abandoned mines would provide environmentally friendly heating while employing engineers and construction workers, he said.
“Pennsylvania could take a similar approach and develop a valuable new energy resource”, Webster wrote.
Cruz faces “yinzers”
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hit the University of Pittsburgh on Thursday – and scoffed online for botching a famous western Pennsylvania expression.
Cruz criticized the university on Twitter for allegedly promoting non-sexist language, including “colleagues, guests, all, yinz, friends, people, students, people” instead of “Ladies and gentlemen.”
Cruz said of those who encourage the new language: “Guys, these yinz are crazy (crazy). “
Abuse of “yinz” – the well-known Pittsburgh slang which is akin to “you all” – quickly attracted insults from the region.
This is not the first time that Cruz faces the Pittsburghers.
In January, he tweeted that President Joe Biden’s decision to join the Paris climate agreement showed “He is more interested in the opinions of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh.”
The comment drew much criticism, especially from the mayor of Pittsburgh.
Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for the Ogden newspapers. He can be contacted at [email protected]