Out of power in two of three branches of government in Pennsylvania, Republicans who control the state Legislature completed the first step Wednesday to amend the state constitution and potentially undo a long-term Democratic majority on the state's highest court.
The state Senate voted 26-24 to move the proposed amendment to the next step. The House approved it in December. No Democrat voted for it.
Under it, Pennsylvania would end the practice of state Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges running for 10-year terms on the bench in statewide elections and, instead, sort those seats into geographical districts where a candidate must live.
Republicans say they are dissatisfied with court decisions. Democrats call judicial districts a scheme to gerrymander the courts, now that the state Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority that could prove durable well past 2030.
Of the five Democrats on the state Supreme court, one is from Philadelphia and four are from the Pittsburgh area. Changing to judicial districts could shorten the career of more than one Democrat, or force them to move and run in newly drawn districts outside the Democratic bastions of metropolitan Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Those newly drawn districts outside of metropolitan Philadelphia and Pittsburgh likely would provide Republicans a better electoral chance. Subsequent legislation would dictate how districts are drawn and how courts transition to the new system.
One more vote by the Legislature next year would send the matter to voters in a statewide referendum as early as the May 18, 2021 election.