HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to redraw boundaries of the state’s congressional districts has triggered a volcanic reaction from Republicans, including talk of impeaching justices and a Democratic Party plot to stop President Donald Trump.
The ruling was indeed novel: Constitutional law scholars say they know of no other state court that has ever thrown out congressional district boundaries over a partisan gerrymandering claim.
It has implications for Republican control of Congress. It also has implications for state government: Republicans say they are worried about what the court — with a 5-2 Democratic majority — may do in the future to weaken the power of a Republican-controlled Legislature.
“This is without precedent and could have far-reaching impact, not just for congressional lines, but for the rule of law and separation of powers,” said Pennsylvania’s Republican Party chairman, Val DiGiorgio.
For Republicans, the decision came at a stressful time — this year’s mid-term election is a time when the party of the president traditionally loses seats in Congress. Republicans also have enormous clout invested in the other branches of government. The GOP controls an all-time high of 32 state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and 33 of 50 governor’s offices.
Democrats suggest there’s desperation in the strident Republican rhetoric.
“It all sounds rather unhinged to me,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh.
Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon: “Democratic judges have totally redrawn election lines in the great State of Pennsylvania.” He went on to say it was “very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole. Must be appealed to the United States Supreme Court ASAP!”
What Pennsylvania’s high court struck down was widely viewed as one of the nation’s most gerrymandered congressional maps. Republicans had drawn bizarrely contorted districts in 2011, breaking decades of precedent to do it. They found success, winning 13 of 18 congressional seats in three straight elections in a stretch when Democrats won 18 out of 24 statewide elections in Pennsylvania.
The court’s map is no doubt friendlier to Democrats.
To some extent, Pennsylvania is the center of a disconcerting universe for Republicans: They see a national effort to put Democrats in a better position to draw congressional maps for a decade of elections starting in 2022. That includes multimillion-dollar campaigns by the Democratic Governors Association and a group led by Eric Holder, attorney general under former President Barack Obama.
In a statement Friday, Holder said Republicans fighting the Pennsylvania court’s map “have shown they are afraid of the very voters they claim they want to represent.”
For their part, Republicans say they worry that an entrenched Democratic majority on the court has permanently commandeered Pennsylvania’s redistricting power. Then there is this: what other power will the court take from the Legislature?
To motivate voters, Republicans are attacking Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in particular as a collaborator with the court and Democrats reviled by many conservatives, among them super donor George Soros and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. A state Democratic Party spokeswoman countered that “Republicans will do anything to hold on to their rigged system.”
Republicans also connected the dots to Trump.
“The goal here is to stop the president’s agenda and to make sure that there are more Democrats in Congress than Republicans,” Pennsylvania’s Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai said.
In a sign of Republican mobilization, Pennsylvania’s most senior elected Republican, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, delivered a blistering verbal attack Tuesday just as fellow Republicans filed papers in federal courts seeking to block the new districts.
The state court’s decision, Toomey told reporters, is a “blatant, unconstitutional partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process.” He did nothing to tamp down impeachment talk, calling it a conversation that state lawmakers should have.
Talk of impeaching a justice is rare in Pennsylvania, so rare that it did not arise even as three justices left the bench amid scandals in the past five years.
“Their reaction right now is rather bizarre. It’s not befitting people in those positions to say, ‘when we get a decision we don’t like, let’s impeach the judges,’” Doyle said. “We’re not a nation that operates that way. We’re a nation of laws.”
In any case, impeachment talk may be little more than saber-rattling.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have started an impeachment process a number of times, but successfully impeached a public official just once since 1803, according to the House parliamentarian. That was ex-Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994 — after he was ejected from the bench by a criminal conviction.
The Cumberland Valley High School varsity cheerleading squad capped a stellar season with a third-place finish at the 2018 National High School Cheerleading Championships.
“These girls practiced four days a week during the fall — sometimes five,” Coach Kristi Shaffner said. “They even practiced Super Bowl Sunday this year. They really worked hard. I can’t say enough about their work ethic.”
Members of the team are 12th-graders Noelle Bennese, Victoria Burnett, Rory Coughlin, Lea Curl, Ariel DaSilva, Lauren LaPointe, Madison Long, Caley McGuigan and Sarah Swartz; 11th-graders Ashlyn Bornman, Caitlyn Colyer, Madelynn Dorsey, Lauren Grundusky, Ahmari Johnson, Vanessa Long and Sydney Segin; 10th-graders Lauren Cirrincione, Hayley Clark, Olivia Crawford, Ella Cressler, Morgan Matherly, Breanna McEwen, Emma Neely, Ally Palmer, Nicole Pautler, Laicie Ray, Kirstin Reinard, Veronica Slevin and Elizabeth Stehman; and ninth-graders Hannah Arentz, Deanna Gilbert, Effie Lemus, Amanda Murin and Peyton Palmeri.
Assistant coaches are Bethany Mullin and Amanda Peterson.
The national competition was held Feb. 10-11 at Disney World’s ESPN Center in Orlando, Florida. Cumberland Valley, which competes in the Super Varsity Division for teams with at least 21 cheerleaders from school districts with an enrollment of at least 1,600 in grades nine to 12, received an invitation from the Universal Cheerleaders Association by winning the regional competition in Kutztown in December.
At the national competition, Cumberland Valley advanced to the finals by finishing second out of 14 teams in the preliminary round and seventh in the semifinals.
“We had three errors in the semifinals but still made the finals,” Shaffner said. “In the finals, we did a great job and ended up third out of nine teams — our best placement ever. … We are thrilled.”
Houston, Tennessee, won the national title and United, Texas, placed second.
Caley McGuigan, 17, said the third-place finish at nationals “will forever be an amazing accomplishment for Cumberland Valley cheerleading.”
“This past cheer season was definitely my hardest working, and I’ve been with Cumberland Valley cheerleading for 12 years,” she said. “My team and I worked so hard in the gym so that way our skills could be the best they could be. This was the hardest routine Cumberland Valley cheerleading has ever had.”
McGuigan said the team reached its goal to compete in the national finals and earn a medal, and credited her coaches for her team’s success.
“We were guaranteed ninth place in the nation at that point (finals), and that was so exciting to us,” she said. “When we performed in finals, we nailed it. We were so proud of each other. Awards came, and we waited for our name to be called. Our best ranking (previously) was fifth at nationals, so we wanted to do even better. As teams got called and we got to the top five, my team was ecstatic. When they called us for third place, we went crazy. Third place is such a great accomplishment for a team that has only attended nationals for three years.”
This is the third year that Cumberland Valley has gone to the national tournament. The team placed fifth in 2016 and eighth in 2017.
Shaffner said the team’s improvement can be attributed to hard work and dedication, which has allowed the girls to learn “super elite skills” that earn extra points from the judges.
“Our level of difficulty is the most we’ve ever had,” she said. “We have high-to-highs. You have a girl over your head, and she does a full twist. She’s standing in your hands and twists the whole way around. Then we have one-and-a-half-ups to a heel stretch. The top girl from the bottom spins one-and-a-half times up to the top and does a heel stretch. When she’s at the top, she’s standing on one leg.
“Our difficulty level is improving enough to get up into the top three.”
Shaffner said the past season is definitely one to remember. Cumberland Valley won the District 3 championship and finished second in states.
“We were really, really close to winning (states),” she said. “We were edged out by seven-tenths of a point.”
Cumberland Valley has won the District 3 championship every year since it started eight years ago, and won the state tournament four times and finished second twice since it was first held six years ago.
“We’ve had a very successful season,” Shaffner said. “It’s definitely been one of our best, especially with that level of difficulty.”
South Middleton Township’s newest official said he’s ready to serve the community, even if he’s not yet old enough to vote.
Drew Uhler, 17, was sworn in on Thursday night to serve as South Middleton’s junior supervisor. He will offer input at township supervisors meetings through June 2019, when the 11th-grader is scheduled to graduate from Boiling Springs High School.
Uhler, son of Kurt and Stacey Uhler of South Middleton Township, said he applied for the junior supervisor position because local government “directly affects people of the community, and I want to give back to the community.” Public service is nothing new to the family because Kurt Uhler is the township’s parks and recreation manager.
The township initiated a junior supervisor program in 2014 to involve youths in local government and public affairs. The program is open to high school juniors and seniors in South Middleton Township with the intent of junior supervisors educating peers about the overall process.
“We think that it’s important to ensure that the younger people have an understanding of local government and can contribute to their community,” township manager Cory Adams said.
Uhler, a member of the Bubblers’ varsity football and wrestling teams, said he hopes to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Township supervisor Tom Faley, a 1962 West Point graduate, told Uhler this excited him. “I went to West Point and never regretted it,” Faley said.
In other news, South Middleton Township Supervisors approved a request by Union Quarries Inc. at 101 Bonnybrook Road to extend the closure of a portion of South Spring Garden Street to March 2. The road closure originally was scheduled to end on Feb. 24.
The closure relates to Union Quarries constructing a new stone processing plant and internal access drive that replaces the company’s existing stone crusher. When completed, crushed stone product will be conveyed across the quarry for further processing and stockpiling through a tunnel beneath South Spring Garden Street instead of using public streets.
The 20-foot tunnel is intended to reduce neighborhood traffic delays and airborne dust caused by quarry transport trucks. The new stone crusher will be on the east side of South Spring Garden Street in the same area as the existing crusher.
Project construction fell a few days behind schedule this week when township officials put a temporary hold on all site work. Work stopped on Monday afternoon because developers hadn’t yet submitted a $100,000 letter of credit that was required by the township before construction started, Faley said. He attributed the situation to a “communication breakdown” involving contractors.
Work resumed at the Union Quarries site at midday Wednesday after developers provided necessary documents to township officials, according to Tim Duerr, the township’s chief of planning, zoning and codes enforcement. A letter of credit gives the township the means to return South Spring Street to its original state if Union Quarries should abandon the tunnel project.
Despite the mixup, township supervisors said Union Quarries is a good neighbor to South Middleton.
“This is a minor fluke. Union Quarries has been very good to us and good for us to work with,” supervisor Duff Manweiler said.