Partisan Courts, Predictable results?

a police officer standing near white concrete pillars of a building

This week’s decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding election poll watchers was a sad commentary on the judicial system.

It was partisan.

Pennsylvania’s election code states: “Watchers shall be permitted to be present when the envelopes containing official absentee ballots are opened and when such ballots are counted and recorded.”

What does “present” signify?

Poll watchers for GOP President Donald Trump argued they were kept so far from the action that they could not see whether outside envelopes containing ballots were properly signed by voters and marked by election workers. Once the envelopes are separated from the ballot, which is not signed for privacy reasons, there is no way to ascertain whether the ballot was cast by a bona fide voter.

Initially Trump’s poll watchers were cordoned off behind a waist-high security fence about 35 yards away from the action.  However, a PA Commonwealth Court judge ordered them to be relocated about six feet from the action, close enough to “ascertain sufficient details of the canvassing process.”

Split Along Party Lines

In a split ruling Tuesday, the Democratic majority on Pennsylvania’s high court overturned the Commonwealth Court ruling, holding that state law required only that poll watchers be “in the room” when votes are counted. (This is the case even if the room is the size of a football field?)

Justice Debra Todd, who wrote the majority opinion, said PA’s legislature did not specify a “minimum distance” for poll watchers and it would be “improper” for the court to do so.

The two Republicans on the court, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Sally Mundy, dissented.

Their position was the court should not intervene because the issue was effectively “moot” in that the vote count was almost over and the legislature had signaled there would be a close re-examination of the ballots.  

U.S. Supreme Court?

It was a loss for Trump but not unexpected. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, observed on Monday that Democratic-majority courts tend to rule in favor of Democrats.

Now the case appears to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is comprised of six justices appointed by Republicans and three appointed by Democrats.

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