The separation of powers clauses laid out in our state and national constitutions is meant to ensure one section of government, whether it be the executive, legislative or judicial branch, doesn’t become too powerful and infringe on the rights of the people. These separations protect our democratic system and uphold our free society.
We must have checks and balances if we want a government that works for the people. As John Adams, our second president, said, “I say, that power must never be trusted without a check.”
Of late, however, the thin line that separates the three branches of state government have sadly become blurred with one branch overstepping its border and infringing on the powers held by another branch.
We have recently experienced in Pennsylvania two clear examples of branches of government overstepping the legal boundaries and blurring the lines that separate the powers.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive branch acted on a borrowing plan that will cost taxpayers nearly $400 million over the course of nearly three decades. Apart from this plan being a bad deal for taxpayers, the governor overstepped his executive authority when he engaged in a contract to generate revenue by assuming new debt — something that must originate in the House of Representatives, according to the PA Constitution.
Under the plan, the state received a loan for $200 million from Blackford Ventures, a Lancaster County-based venture capital firm, that is earmarked for new special fund created by Wolf. In exchange, the state will pay the $200 million principal plus $191 million in interest over the course of 29 years, starting next year. The governor signal-handedly put taxpayers on the hook for approximately $13.5 million annually, assuming the state’s general fund will simply absorb this new expense.
What makes this deal even worse is the fact that the Common Sense Caucus, of which I am a member, found well over $200 million sitting idle in special fund reserve accounts that would have fully funded the 2017-18 budget. Refusing to acknowledge the surpluses in the state’s 200 plus special funds, Wolf opted to borrow money at an interest rate of 4.3 percent for 29 years, saddling your children and grandchildren with three decades worth of unnecessary debt.
Another example of the disregard of the separation of powers occurred in February. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court usurped the powers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly when it ordered specific action of the General Assembly to occur in an unconstitutional time frame and then engaged in the legislative task of redrawing congressional district lines.
Three of the first five parts of the Pennsylvania Constitution lay out, in descending order, the roles of the three branches of government. Article II explains the job of the Legislature, Article IV is on the executive branch and, lastly, Article V is about the judicial branch.
There is a reason why the courts are last on the list of branches. They have no sovereignty over the constitution, the makeup of congressional maps or any other law. Legislating from the bench is a dangerous slope that sees the people’s voices ignored in favor of the political ideals of just a few people.
Impeachment is the only constitutional check on the misbehavior of Supreme Court justices. House Resolutions 766, 767, 768 and 769, all of which I have co-sponsored, have respectively been put forward to begin the impeachment process for Justices David Wecht, Debra Todd, Christine Donahue and Kevin Dougherty. These four justices knowingly violated their oaths to uphold the constitutions of both Pennsylvania and the United States when they engaged in activity that exceeded their constitutionally established jurisdiction.
This is not an issue of gerrymandered districts. This is not an issue of an undesirable ruling. And this is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats. This is an issue of the line that separates the powers being, once again, blatantly violated and power being taken from the people. This is a violation of our sovereign rights and is extremely dangerous to our republic form of government which our constitution guarantees. The constitution is a contract between “we the people” and the government, and when that contract is violated, offenders must be held accountable if we are going to ensure the integrity of a document that has served as our nation’s bedrock for over 200 years.
State rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Dillsburg) represents Pennsylvania’s 92nd District.