It was on July 15th that the PA Senate passed House Bill 196, by Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon). It would call for appellate court judges in Pennsylvania (Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme Courts) to be chosen by district. Now they are chosen by total vote across the entire state.
“For the last 50 years, the result of that has been that Allegheny and Philadelphia County have taken about 60% of those seats,” Diamond told me last week on a visit to his Capitol office. “That is three-times their population—21.8%.”
Diamond says he believes there should be more geographic diversity on those courts because there are different judicial temperaments and attitudes toward the law across the state. He has introduced the bill in each of his three terms in office, but this time around it has gotten some traction.
“It’s a constitutional amendment which would divide the state into seven Supreme Court districts, nine Commonwealth Court districts and 15 Superior Court districts so that every region in the state has a fair shot at having a judge getting a seat on that bench.”
The measure passed the House in December. Since it is a constitutional amendment, it will have to be passed by both chambers again next session and then it would be placed on the ballot for voter approval. The governor would have no say in the matter, which is pertinent in this instance because Governor Wolf has shown a penchant to veto Republican-backed bills.
There has been opposition to the bill. Diamond says it’s from legislators who are calling for merit selection.