House votes to amend constitution to pick judges by district
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Majority Republicans in the state House on Wednesday took the first step to amend the Pennsylvanian Constitution so that appeals court judges would be elected by district rather than statewide.
The House voted 102-95 for the proposal that would have lawmakers draw the district lines for Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts.
In order to be enacted, the bill must still pass the Senate, then be approved by both chambers in the 2021-22 legislative session, before going to voters for final approval as a referendum.
All Democrats voted no, joined by four Republicans.
Under the bill, the judges and justices would have to live in their districts for at least a year before they could be elected.
Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, the prime sponsor, said he hoped to add diversity to the courts and noted that state voters would have the final say.
“My bill does not regionalize the way any cases are heard, nor does it regionalize any other administrative or any case management aspect of our courts.”
The ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Tim Briggs of Montgomery County, said that as a constitutional amendment, the bill should have been the topic of a public hearing.
“When politicians in Harrisburg evade transparency for the sake of speed, they are hiding something,” Briggs said. “This is an attempt to rig the judiciary, nothing more, nothing less.”
Pennsylvania elects seven justices to the Supreme Court, 15 judges to Superior Court and nine judges to Commonwealth Court.
Diamond said earlier this year that his own research indicated 53 of 96 seats in statewide judicial races over 50 years were won by candidates from Philadelphia and Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh.