Who Is Really Talking About Impeachment And Court-Packing

Way back in the beginning of this year, you might remember that House Republicans were going to rally their base for the midterms by claiming that the first thing the Democrats would do if they regain power would be to impeach Donald Trump. This was seen as a way to perhaps peel off moderate voters who would supposedly be appalled by such a possibility.

That strategy has been totally abandoned and, just to illustrate how bad the prospects are for Republicans in the House, GOP strategists are starting to talk about how Democrats winning the House and then impeaching Trump will fire up the base for the 2020 presidential campaign.

Despite all the GOP talk about Democrats impeaching Trump, the only ones doing impeachment these days are the Republicans themselves. And they are on a serious impeachment bender. In Pennsylvania, in the wake of a State Supreme Court decision that ruled the GOP gerrymandering violated the state constitution, eleven members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives put forward a resolution to impeach every member of the Court who voted to invalidate the election districts. Every one of those members happened to be Democrats. Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania House realized that this move would not play well and did not bring the resolution to a vote.

But that didn’t stop Republicans from trying to save their illegal gerrymanders. The Court had ordered the new districts be drawn and a bipartisan bill actually already existed that would create an independent redistricting commission. According to the Brennan Center, the commission provided “independence, transparency and compromise, the three key ingredients to fair redistricting. Eleven citizen commissioners — four registered Republicans, four registered Democrats, and three independents — would be randomly selected from pools of screened candidates to draw Pennsylvania’s maps. Prospective commissioners with any direct connections to elected officials or political ambitions would be excluded. The commission’s work would be guided by clear, legitimate criteria and the process would include numerous opportunities for public input. Ultimately, a map would only be enacted once a proposal received the support of seven commissioners, including at least one from each caucus.” The bill had wide support among both Democrats and Republicans in both legislative house.

After letting the bill languish for a year, a Republican-controlled committee held an unannounced hearing and voted to gut the bipartisan without any debate or hearing. Instead, a new bill was passed out of committee that “would give responsibility for drawing maps to six handpicked politicians. And rather than requiring partisan balance, this drastic change allows for a 4–2 skew if, as is currently the case, one party controls both the state house and senate. The amendment would also cut the governor, currently a Democrat, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court out of the process entirely.”

In West Virginia, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates has voted to impeach the entire West Virginia Supreme Court. The Court, which usually consists of five elected members was already down to four when one justice resigned just as the impeachment process was beginning. A second justice, who has not yet resigned, was indicted in June on federal charges of fraud, witness tampering, and lying to investigators. All four justices are charged in the impeachment documents with overspending to remodel their offices and overpaying retired senior status judges. Now I’m no expert on West Virginia politics but I think it would be an understatement to say that it has never been a strong state for good governance. And overspending on remodeling and overpaying senior judges sound like things that were long considered perks of the job.

But even if the charges against the judges have real substance, it is the timing of this impeachment action by the Republicans that is most concerning. Republicans waited until August 14th to impeach these judges. That date also happens to be the last date for scheduling a special election in November. Without a special election, it falls to Democrat-turned-Republican Governor Jim Justice to appoint any new judges, assuming any or all of the current justices are convicted of impeachment in the State Senate. Those judges would serve for two years until the normal election in 2020. Although the state voted to have non-partisan judicial elections in 2015, the current makeup of the Supreme Court before the resignation and impeachment favored Democrats 3–2. Assuming all of the remaining justices are convicted, the Republican governor would have the ability to pack the entire Court with his cronies for at least the next two years.

In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature has been fighting to strip any elected Democrat of power ever since the party lost total control of the three branches of government in 2016, despite their illegal gerrymandering. The legislature has place a number of constitutional amendments on the ballot for November. Two of them particularly target the powers of the current Democratic governor. One would take away his power to appoint members to state boards and commissions and the other would limit his ability to fill judicial vacancies. Both of those powers would now be given to the GOP-controlled legislature. The governor is suing to remove those two proposals from the ballot claiming the language is misleading and the state Supreme Court now will end up hearing that case and objections to two other ballots from the NAACP and an environmental group.

The executive director of the state Republican party openly threatened the Court with impeachment if they blocked any of the ballot proposals. The director stated, “Today I suggested that should the democrats on the NC Supreme Court block citizens from voting on constitutional amendments, a Constitutional crisis would be upon us. I suggested that there would be an equal and opposite reaction that occur with voters and their elected representatives, that could include many things: censure, further attempts to clarify the role of the courts through constitutional amendments, changes in what courts can hear what cases, and yes impeachment.” Although he claimed that there had been no discussion with members of the legislature about impeachment, it is hard to believe that the director of the Republican party would make such an egregious attack on the independence of the judiciary unless there was broad support within the party to do so. Notice, too, that he takes direct aim at the Democrats on the Court, turning a judicial decision into a partisan process.

Finally, we can’t ignore Trump’s sycophants in the US House of Representatives. There, Republican leaders, scandal-tainted Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, have introduced a resolution to impeach Rod Rosenstein for high crimes and misdemeanors, primarily centered on Rosenstein’s refusal to turn over confidential documents related to the Russia investigation. Rosenstein’s reluctance is based not only on maintaining the independence of the Justice Department and its investigations but also the knowledge that any relevant material he turns over to the House Republicans will immediately be shared with members of the Trump team who may be targets of the investigation to aid in their defense.

Paul Ryan and the other members of the House leadership have made it clear this resolution is going nowhere before the election but it will be used as a campaign prop to fire up portions of Trump’s base. And if the Republicans manage to maintain control of the House in November, this resolution could very well be acted upon.

All of the is part and parcel of the Republican attempt to subvert any judicial oversight that may impinge on its power while packing the courts with partisan hacks in order to provide the judicial cover for its unconstitutional and undemocratic acts to maintain power. Because of Mitch McConnell’s across-the-board obstruction of Democratic judicial nominees, including Merrick Garland, Donald Trump has been able to pack a remarkable 15% of all the US Court of Appeals judges with his appointments. And with the current vacancies, it is possible that Trump will have appointed 20% by the end of his first (and, hopefully, last) term. If Brett Kavanaugh gets rammed through by the GOP and confirmed, that would mean that nearly half of the Supreme Court, 80% of its conservative majority, and nearly half the entire US Court of Appeals will have been appointed by two Presidents, Trump and G. W. Bush, who lost the popular vote.

If and when Trump is impeached, the GOP will scream bloody murder. But it is Republicans that have actually used the impeachment process for purely political gain, from Bill Clinton to these various aforementioned attacks on state supreme courts. Similarly, when Democrats regain power and attempt to rebalance the courts, the GOP will decry court-packing. But they were the ones that packed the courts to begin with.

Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on August 21, 2018.

Thoughtful discussions on politics and economics with some sidelights in photography and astronomy.

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