PENNSYLVANIANS LIKE Gov. Tom Corbett less with each passing opinion poll, but they won’t get a chance to vote him out of office until 2014. Right now, however, state courts are causing Republicans — who also control the state House and Senate — serial headaches. Most recently, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued an injunction blocking the state’s voter-ID law from going into effect for the upcoming presidential election.
Simpson initially gave voter ID his blessing, but a split state Supreme Court ordered him to take another look to ensure the law would cause no voter disenfranchisement. The high court was somewhat split along party lines — but that’s not to say any of the justices wanted to let the law stand. The split was between a majority that basically forced Simpson to stay the law and two dissenting liberals who wanted the court to issue the injunction right there.
The same goes for the state’s Marcellus Shale law, which prohibits localities from regulating natural-gas drilling within their borders. In July, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled 4-3 that the provisions overriding “local zoning and environmental laws” were unconstitutional. Corbett appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.
The same is happening with state legislative redistricting, the every-10-years process by which district boundaries are redrawn using new census numbers. It is always a nakedly political process, with parties warping districts to maximize their potential electoral success. But in January, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the Republican-drawn plan unconstitutionally chopped up towns and counties. In September, the redistricting commission gave the Court a new map. That case is pending.
“I think you are seeing the results of Republican overreach,” says Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick. “In almost all of the areas that the court has been asked to weigh in on, the GOP has taken some fairly extreme policy positions that even Republican-leaning courts may see as going too far.”
The courts have yet another chance to block extremism: Corbett has also eliminated $205-a-month General Assistance cash welfare for the most disadvantaged Pennsylvanians, including disabled people. Three poor and disabled people are challenging that law, which also restricts other safety-net programs, saying it was passed in a way that violates the state constitution. Voters may have elected Republicans to control Harrisburg, but they didn’t give them license to violate the law.
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