There’s no staying home for the most important PA election of the century


November 3rd is the most important election of the century?  A pretty wild exaggeration isn’t it?

Actually, no; if anything, maybe it’s an understatement.  Here’s the deal. There are three seats that will be filled on the PA Supreme Court on November 3rd to join the two Democratic and two Republican holdovers.

The result will be a Court whose partisan makeup ranges anywhere from 5-2 Republican to 5-2 Democratic. Although we can’t say definitively how decisions would differ depending on which Party wins, we know in general that Democratic judges are far more progressive than Republican judges.  And we desperately need to take our best shot at getting a progressive majority on this Court.

There are an incredible number of important cases that will likely come before the newly elected Supreme Court. But if the Republicans wind up with five — or even four — members, it’s a pretty good guess that when these cases are decided there will be:

  • NO order to the PA Legislature that it fully fund the Philadelphia School District.
  • NO end to the gerrymandering that has left Democrats structurally incapable of winning the Legislature or a majority of Congressional seats.
  • NO application of the environmental provisions of the state constitution to reduce or stall fracking in the Commonwealth.
  • NO ability of local governments like Philadelphia to regulate firearms or enact a minimum wage.
  • NO limitation on Republican efforts to limit women’s right to choose.
  • NO check against future Republican efforts to reinstate voter ID.

Let’s look a little deeper into the gerrymandering issue.  In Pennsylvania, the Republicans were able to control the 2010 redistricting process because the Supreme Court, which they controlled, appoints the tie-breaking member of the Redistricting Commission. The Commission drafted a radically unfair electoral map, one that guaranteed Republicans extra legislative seats for years to come. This skewed redistricting map was then litigated. Unsurprisingly, with a majority of Republican judges, the Supreme Court left the map virtually intact.

We’re paying the price for that decision right now as we see the Legislature stymie Governor Wolf’s insistence that the Commonwealth fully fund the schools and a wide array of vital social services. The cure for this built-in, right wing majority ruling the Courts and the legislature?  Change the makeup of the Court so that the Democrats have a strong majority of the justices when redistricting occurs again in 2021. And that means starting right now by electing Democrats Christine Donohue, John Dougherty, and David Wecht to the Court on November 3rd.

On the environment the need for a progressive majority is equally high.  In 2013 three justices on the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Rights provision of the state constitution barred enforcement of a state law that restrained localities from using their zoning codes to bar fracking.  Although other members of the Court joined in the holding that overruled the state ban, they did so using a much narrower test.  That test rarely results in the reversal of state law authorizing activities that degrade the environment.  We need one more vote to put teeth into the Environmental Rights provision.

We could examine a wide range of other issues at length to show how critical it is that we elect the three Democratic candidates to the Court.  But here’s the thing we all need to focus on: the result depends almost entirely on turnout in Philadelphia.  This is where 25% of all the State’s Democrats are.  The sad thing is that typically only 10-15% of them vote in municipal election years like this one.  So fellow Philadelphian progressives: it’s now — or perhaps never — to up our game. For more info on how you can help do that, be in touch with Neighborhood Networks by emailing Stan Shapiro at