Fireworks Fly As Pennsylvania Republican Senate Refuses to Sit Democrat Senator
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
On Tuesday, pandemonium broke out during the senatorial swearing-in ceremony in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when the Republican-run Senate refused to sit Jim Brewster, a Democratic incumbent candidate who had been certified the winner of his November 3d election. Brewster ostensibly won the election over his Republican opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli, by 69 votes in a district that includes parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. But Ziccarelli petitioned that Brewster not be seated, with which the Republican Senate leadership complied.
Of course, the story is much more complicated than a cursory look would imply. Ziccarelli lost the election by a margin smaller than the number of counted mail-in votes delivered to the elections' office in undated envelopes. The alleged irregularity has already been contested before Pennsylvania's activist Supreme Court, which ruled that such votes must be counted. The case has been appealed to the federal courts where it awaits resolution.
That the Senate has the authority to refuse to sit a candidate is virtually uncontested. A central constitutional corollary to the separation-of-powers and coequal-branches-of-government doctrines is that each legislative chamber has the unfettered authority to decide the qualifications of its members. Indeed, the concept is memorialized in Article II, Section 9 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, which states, "Each House shall choose its other officers, and shall judge of the election and qualifications of its members."
Still, the refusal to sit a candidate is highly unusual, but in a series of parliamentary maneuvers fit to be included in a case study for a student government training class, the Republicans did just that. The wrangling began with a motion from Republican senators to table consideration of Brewster's qualifications to sit in the chamber. Recognition of the motion was refused by the Presiding Officer of the Senate, the Democrat Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman. The Republicans countered by securing a motion to have him replaced by the interim President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican. The successful maneuver saw Fetterman refuse to yield his gavel as he stood at the rostrum calling the meeting to order while Corman conducted the affairs of the day as Presiding Officer from his seat on the floor of the Senate. In the end, Brewster was not seated, and the question regarding his election remains unresolved.
Aside from a clinic in parliamentary procedure, there are other lessons to be gleamed from these events. First, they are emblematic of the consequences of the actions of an activist court acting as a slave to an agenda rather than a servant to the rule of law. That a court should ignore the requirements that turn a ballot into a vote represents a foundational threat to the security and wellbeing of a democratic republic in ways much more pernicious than the tainting of the results of a highly visible presidential contest.
Second, the destabilization of our democratic institutions is yet another symptom of the distrustful affliction that is destroying us from within. Tempers are flaring where there should be peace, and confidence eroded where no solvent ought to exist. Until now, our greatness has depended, in part, on our status as a nation of laws. The more we stray away from this principle, the closer we come to the precipice of self-annihilation.
But on this occasion, the greater lessons lie outside the halls of our governments. It lies within our withering culture. From the disrespect shown to our elected officials, to the disregard for the authority of our police, to the breakdown of our families and the denigration of peace in our streets, what we are witnessing is the collapse of a free and just society into one ravaged by anarchy and disorder. The consequences of fatherless homes, adults who know not the words of the Lord's Prayer, children who cannot recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and arrogant celebrities who dare to not stand for the National Anthem are clear to everyone except the thugs who aim to put an end to this, the greatest social experiment known to man.
It is my firm belief that those answering to a Supreme Creator that has devised a set of laws governing man's dealings and demanding that human dignity be honored still hold a firm majority in this country. But that majority can no longer watch quietly as the nation is torn to pieces. Unquestionably, our nation's Cultural Reconstruction is way overdue, but succeed it must for if it does not, there will be nowhere for free men and women to run, and "We shall . . . meanly lose the last best hope of earth."
Many watched Tuesday's events in Pennsylvania in horror. Others with glee. But I saw them as just another symptom of a worsening sickness whose cure we recognize but have not demonstrated the courage to pursue.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopedic surgeon living in Florida. He is a lawyer, author, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives. He is available for speaking engagements at email@example.com