Under our constitution, the Supreme Court has the final say on legal questions. Earlier on Monday, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a one sentence order declining a request by Pennsylvania’s Republicans asking the court to impose a stay of the state’s Supreme Court order to draw an electoral map that complies with the constitution.
The reason: The US Supreme Court does not weigh in on state constitutions.
However, Republicans in Pennsylvania said they intend to defy the ruling. In a joint statement obtained by The Huffington Post. Republicans Pennsylvania House Speaker Michael Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had “handicapped” Alito by “failing to provide a full opinion to accompany its order to redraw the state’s congressional map.”
In a tweet, Constitutional expert Laurence Tribe schooled Turzai and Scarnati on the legal realities:
More precisely, they missed the weeks when they taught that the only federal court in which one can launch an attack on a ruling by a state’s highest court is SCOTUS. Sideways attacks in lower federal courts are forbidden. It’s the great Rooker/Feldman doctrine. https://t.co/ILblS3syk6
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) February 5, 2018
The Rooker/Feldman doctrine gets its name from two SCOTUS rulings. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co which held that the Supreme Court of the US has the exclusive power to hear appeals from state court judgements.
The Court of Appeals v. Feldman held that federal district courts do not have the jurisdiction to hear challenges to certain state-court decisions.
Put these rulings together and it means it’s time to put a fork in it, because the effort by Pennsylvania’s Republicans to keep their gerrymandered maps is done.
This isn’t the first time state Republicans tried to defy the Supreme Court and it always ends badly for those who try.
In 2017, Republicans in North Carolina tried to defy the Court’s ruling on marriage equality with a new bill to ban same sex marriages in the state. However, the Speaker of the State House refused to let that bill see the light of day because of constitutional concerns.
And who can forget Roy Moore’s efforts to defy the Supreme Court? In both cases, he did so as the Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court and both times Moore was removed from the bench, for violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics.
Obviously, the Republicans in Pennsylvania are hoping to run out the clock with doomed legal strategies. The reality is, the Supreme Court shut the door on their last legal option.