Trump spent four years hammering the courts. Pa. judges showed the independent judiciary is alive and well | Monday Morning Coffee

November 30, 2020 7:11 am

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 5: In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, Chief Justice John Roberts announces the results of the vote on the second article of impeachment during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senators will cast their final vote to convict or acquit later today. (Photo by Senate Television via Getty Images)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If there’s one calling card of Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s been his unremitting attack on the institutions of government. From the State Department to the Pentagon, no agency has escaped the soon-to-be former president’s Twitter rage. Trump’s assault on what he calls ‘the deep state,’ abetted by the whack-job disciples of the odious QAnon conspiracy theory, has inflicted long-term damage on the public trust’s in government. And repairing it will be one of the many challenges that President-elect Joe Biden will face when he takes office in January.

But it’s fair to say that Trump has reserved particular scorn for the judicial system, as he’s assailed the lineage of American-born judges and launched attacks so blistering that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts was prompted in 2018 to launch a rare public defense of the independence of the federal judiciary after Trump dismissed a judge who’d ruled against his asylum policy as an “Obama judge.”

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement at the time. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

So after all those attacks, it’s been particularly gratifying to see judges across the country, but particularly in Pennsylvania, step up over these last few weeks and basically laugh the administration’s groundless claims of election fraud clean out of their courtrooms.

(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News)

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, a conservative Republican judge appointed to the bench in 2012 on the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.dismissed a Trump lawsuit challenging the state’s election results as a “Frankenstein’s Monster” of legal claims that would have, if successful, resulted in the disenfranchisement of millions of Keystone State voters.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Brann wrote in a withering, 37-page ruling. “Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations … unsupported by the evidence.”

Brann was upheld Friday by a 3-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which hammered Trump’s lawsuit in equally blistering language.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, wrote on behalf of the appeals court, according to the New York Times. “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

On Saturday, a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court shot down a lawsuit, led by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, that sought to overturn the results of the entire Nov. 3 general election, arguing that Pennsylvania’s mail-in balloting law, which was embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, was unconstitutional.

“They have failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted,” Justice David Wecht, who was elected as a Democrat, wrote in a concurring opinion, according to The Guardian. While justices elected as Democrats hold the majority on the state’s highest court, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor was elected as a Republican.

Which brings us back to RobertsTrump has appealed the ruling of the 3rd Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, fantastically claiming that the “the activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania” had covered up “allegations of massive fraud,” even though all three judges on the appellate panel were appointed by Republicans.

Writing for The Street, columnist Mike Shedlock notes that there are three, compelling reasons for the Roberts Court to pass on Trump’s lawsuits:

  1. “Election law is a state issue. [Rudy] Giuliani tried multiple times in multiple states to make federal law an issue. He failed in every attempt. 
  2. “Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Nevada have all certified the election for [Joe] Biden,” and 
  3. Trump needs to succeed in not one case in one state, but in multiple cases in multiple states. The Supreme Court is likely to reject hearing cases on grounds they are moot.”

“The clear fact of the matter is Team Trump led by Rudy Giuliani presented and lost every case in ways practically begging the Supreme Court not to hear them,” Shedlock wrote.

As the decision in the Obamacare case reminds us, Roberts is nothing if not an institutionalist. And after defending the independence of the judiciary so stridently just two years ago, the last thing he wants is to look like he’s in thrall to Trump when lower courts have ruled against the infant-in-chief.

So as bleak as things have been this campaign season, the independence of the judiciary has been one of the rare bright spots.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Cassie Miller
 leads our coverage this morning with a rundown of the most and least equitable school districts in Pennsylvania in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adamshad to ‘abruptly leave’ a West Wing meeting with President Donald Trump last week after learning he had tested positive for COVID-19. Mastriano, a prime critic of the Wolf administration’s pandemic policies, was among the dozen lawmakers who sat shoulder to shoulder, without masks, at a hearing at the Wyndham Gettysburg just hours before that meeting.

House Republicans struck out Saturday in a last-minute push to try to get Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to reverse course on the certification of the election results. And you can read our full story on that Saturday state Supreme Court decision. All come to you via your humble newsletter author.

Republican state Senate candidate Nicole Ziccarrelli is sticking to her claim that certain mail-in ballots in her still-unresolved election shouldn’t be counted, even after the courts have disagreed, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

Our Helping the Helpers series, a cooperative effort with the Uniontown Herald-Standard, continues this morning with a look at the great work being done by the folks at the Touchstone Arts Center in Farmington Twp., Pa. As ever, there’s a link to how you can help.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Lebanon Valley College professor offers some tips on how to manage awkward political talk around the office watercooler — assuming you even have an office or a watercooler these days.

En la Estrella-Capital, los defensores de la inmigración presionan a Biden a no solo recuperar DACA sino a expandirlo.

dministration can make significant changes in health care for Americans (Joe Raedle via Getty Images).

The Inquirer
 runs the numbers on Joe Biden’s win in the Philly ‘burbs, which were key to his Pennsylvania victory.
The Post-Gazette
 goes deep on the financial damage that the pandemic is inflicting on college athletic departments.
PennLive explains why Pennsylvania is lagging the nation on testing as COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide.
The Morning Call explains how Lehigh Valley officials are working to keep people who are experiencing homelessness safe as COVID-19 cases rise and winter approaches.
The Citizens-Voice looks at the new traditions started during Pennsylvania’s first Sunday deer hunt.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

GoErie tries to explain why U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District filed that long-shot court case against Pennsylvania’s mail-in balloting law.
Pennsylvania’s refugee resettlement agencies are welcoming the new Biden administrationWHYY-FM reports.
Washington & Jefferson College professor has started a foundation that supports cancer research and clinical trials, the Uniontown Herald-Standard reports.
WITF-FM explains how Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Alert mobile app works. previews the coming policy fights after the elections deepened partisan divisions at state capitols nationwide.
NYMag’s Intelligencer explains why Republicans oppose any effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Activists are boosting U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, as the next head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If she’s picked, she’d be the first Black woman to hold the post, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
11:30 a.m.:
 Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega hold an online briefing to talk about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Pennsylvania Health Department spokeswoman April Hutcheson, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an isolation collaboration by The Courteneers and Blossoms, it’s ‘Please Don’t.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
As ever, The Guardian runs down the Top 10 Talking Points from this weekend’s round of Premier League action, including Chelsea’s scoreless draw with Tottenham.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.