HARRISBURG – The membership of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts would reflect the regional diversity of Pennsylvania under a sweeping judicial election reform bill that was approved by the Senate today, according to Senator Senator Judy Ward (R-30), who supported the legislation.
House Bill 196 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to change the way that appellate court judges are elected. The bill would divide the Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court into judicial districts to ensure a broader range of regional interests are represented on Pennsylvania’s highest courts.
In current practice, members of the state’s appellate courts are elected via a statewide vote. As a result, more than half of all the members of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court and Commonwealth Court are from only two of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties, which represent only 21 percent of the state’s population.
Five of the seven Supreme Court Justices, or over two-thirds of the justices, are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79 percent of the state’s population underrepresented on Pennsylvania’s highest court.
Dividing the state into judicial districts will end the current system of disproportionate representation and ensure the perspectives of all regions of the state are reflected in the makeup of the judicial branch.
During debate on the bill on the Senate floor, Ward pushed back on criticism that the bill amounted to “judicial gerrymandering.” In reality, the bill would guarantee equal representation for all Pennsylvania communities in the appellate court system, she said.
“This is about fairness so the rural parts of the state can finally get a fair shake,” Ward said. “Our region deals with judges from Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, and their voices are never heard.”
Eleven other states elect some or all of their appellate court judges or justices regionally.
Because the legislation would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum. The House of Representatives approved the bill in December.
CONTACT: Cheryl Schriner (717) 787-5490