Federal judge rules Sen. Jim Brewster be seated in Pittsburgh-area senate seat after Pa. GOP refuse to swear him in | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Federal judge rules Sen. Jim Brewster be seated in Pittsburgh-area senate seat after Pa. GOP refuse to swear him in

click to enlarge Jim Brewster
Jim Brewster
On Tue., Jan. 12, United State District Judge Nicholas Ranjan ruled that disputed mail-in ballots in the race for Pennsylvania's 45th state Senate District to be counted and said that state Sen. Jim Brewster (D-McKeesport) should be seated. He was being challenged by Nicole Ziccarelli (R-Lower Burrell).

Republican leadership in the state Senate refused to seat Brewster last week, even though his election victory was certified by Pennsylvania's secretary of state, and the state Supreme Court had already ruled that disputed mail-in ballots should be counted. However, Republicans argued that no one should be seated until the federal court challenge is decided.

On Tuesday, Ranjan, a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, ruled against Ziccarelli's challenge, saying the court has a "fundamental disagreement with Ms. Ziccarelli's interpretation of the State Supreme Court's decision."
Brewster won the election by 69 votes, but his Republican-challenger Ziccarelli argued that certain mail-in ballots counted by Allegheny County should not be allowed. The disputed ballots were turned in on time, signed, and filled out properly, except voters forgot to provide handwritten dates on their declaration envelopes.


State election law says voters shall sign and date their ballots. Ziccarrelli argued this meant that those ballots should be disallowed. If these ballots were disallowed, that would have pushed her into a 24 vote lead.

However, Democratic lawyers argued that the Pennsylvania Constitution leans towards enfranchising voters. The State Supreme Court agreed with Democrats and ruled to count the ballots. Ziccarrelli and Republicans never alleged any voter fraud in the cases.

The 45th state Senate District covers much of the Upper Mon Valley, Eastern Allegheny County, as well as New Kensignton and its surroundings in Westmoreland County.

Judge Ranjan's rebuke of Ziccarelli's argument also likely puts an end to any drama over not seating Brewster. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) said on Jan. 8 that the state Senate's decision on who to sit in the chamber "depends on what [Ranjan's] ruling would be, whether it’s on the merits of the case or whether it’s just they don’t believe the federal government has a role in here," indicating that Corman and Republican senators could seat Ziccarelli even if the judge rejected the case, but didn't disagree with the merits of the case.


However, Ranjan wrote in his decision that Ziccarelli's claims "necessarily fail on the merits."

Corman also tweeted later on Jan. 8 "If the federal court rules, as we believe, that the ballots should not count then we will seat Mrs. Ziccarelli immediately and if they rule ballots should count we will seat Senator Brewster immediately."

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post released a statement following Ranjan's ruling that Brewster should be seated immediately.

“In light of this ruling, the way forward for Senator Jake Corman and Pennsylvania’s GOP leadership is clear: they must seat Senator Brewster immediately," says Post in a statement. "The one fig leaf they had to try to justify their antidemocratic tactic is now gone. The people of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties voted for Senator Brewster in November, and the Republican Party must accept their decision even if it is politically inconvenient for them." 

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