by Lowman S. Henry,
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . ”
Those words proclaimed by the thirteen original colonies on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia began the great experiment in self-government that became the United States of America. In 2020 the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania laid waste to the “unalienable Rights” enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Being “destructive of these ends,” it is now time for We the People to exercise our right to alter that government.
The transgressions of Governor Tom Wolf and his administration are too numerous to restate here, but suffice it to say he assumed extra-constitutional powers supposedly to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. His administration has refused to provide information justifying many of their draconian orders and instead has relied on an activist state Supreme Court to run roughshod over a legislature that tried valiantly to restore balance.
As a result, the time has come for Pennsylvanians to take back control of our state government – in fact, control of our lives – from a system of checks and balances that failed us during the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is, if the legislature acts promptly and appropriately, we can do so in a matter of months. The vehicle for restoring both our rights and our state’s system of checks and balances are three proposed constitutional amendments designed to reign in a governor with dictatorial tendencies, and a rogue state Supreme Court.
Amending the Pennsylvania constitution is a two-step process. First, the proposed amendment must be approved by both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions. Then, the amendment must be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
The legislature approved the proposed constitutional amendments in the session that ended in November. The new session of the General Assembly has now commenced. With Republicans in firm control of both the House and the Senate approval of the amendments is likely to come within weeks. That would set up a May referendum for voters to give the amendments final approval.
Two of the amendments center on the exercise of emergency powers by the governor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Wolf has abused that authority by claiming the power to sign or veto any legislation aimed at ending his emergency powers. Despite clear language in the law, the activist state Supreme Court sided with the governor, rendering the legislature powerless to end the emergency declaration.
One amendment would require legislative approval within 21 days of any invocation of emergency powers by the governor. The other eliminates the requirement for a termination resolution to be presented to the governor. Taken together, the amendments would solidify the legislative intent of the current emergency powers law by placing a legislative check on the governor’s authority.
Another proposed amendment would end the statewide election of appellate court judges and justices and instead have members of the Commonwealth, Superior, and state Supreme courts elected by region. This would accomplish two goals: first, it would dilute the power of special interests who expend large sums of money to influence statewide elections by concentrating on voters in heavily populated regions of the state.
Second, and more importantly, the regional election of appellate court judges would result in the election of jurists more closely reflective of the diverse regions that constitute the state. We currently elect members of the legislature – state House and Senate members – by district to ensure equal representation in that branch of government. To elect judges and justices the same way would be both consistent and fair.
As the May referendum on these proposed amendments approaches, look for entrenched special interests spearheaded by a governor who is loath to relinquish power to unleash attacks on the measures. The current system of checks and balances has failed because of their actions. The time has come for the people of Pennsylvania to dismiss their protests and to “institute a new government” protective of our rights.