HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today circulated legislation that would guarantee that the diversity of Pennsylvania and the uniqueness of its various regions would be more accurately reflected in the election of appellate judges.
Aument’s legislation, which would require approval of Pennsylvania’s voters, would divide the Commonwealth into nine (9) Commonwealth Court districts, fifteen (15) Superior Court districts, and seven (7) Supreme Court districts.
The judicial districts would be defined by the General Assembly following the redistricting principles found in the Pennsylvania Constitution, requiring populations as equal as possible in each district with compact and contiguous geographic boundaries, and would comport with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Importantly, candidates for appellate seats would be required to reside in the district they would represent on the court.
“It is a core principle of our republican form of government ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,’” said Aument. “All the people of Pennsylvania deserve to have a fair opportunity to be represented in these important posts which greatly impact our state and people.”
Aument said the idea for the proposal was inspired by the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion on gerrymandering, where five Supreme Court justices found unconstitutional the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Law, citing the inherent unfairness of the map to allow for free and equal elections, as required under Article 1, Section 5 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
“I agree with the Court insofar as the opportunity to represent the people of Pennsylvania should be fair,” said Aument. “In keeping with that laudable goal, this proposal further enshrines that principle into our Constitution so that we would no longer have disproportionate representation on the appellate judicial bench.”
Aument noted that a cursory review of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court and Commonwealth Court judge compliment shows that more than half of all the members of those courts are from only two of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, which only represent 21% of the state’s population.
He also pointed out that five of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices, or over two-thirds of the justices, are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79% of the state’s population unrepresented on Pennsylvania’s highest court.
Taken together, only 15 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are home to a Pennsylvania appellate court judge.
In order to promote greater diversity and fairness in judicial service, eleven other states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin) select judges and justices for either some or all of their appellate courts through the use of regional judicial district elections.
“All of our Commonwealth’s rich heritage and diversity deserves a fair chance to help make important appellate court decisions,” said Aument. “Unfortunately, that simply is not the case today given that our appellate court judges are elected statewide, giving some areas of the state a disproportionate and unfair advantage.”
Aument’s legislation is designed to preserve the right of the people to select their judges and justices, although it could also be adopted as a component to the merit selection of judges.
“My goal is simple – fairness,” said Aument, who noted that he voted against the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Law that was also determined to be unfair by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“I have always been open and supportive of efforts to reform our state government so that it best represents and serves the people,” said Aument. “This proposal could easily be incorporated into other efforts to promote greater fairness in Pennsylvania.”
CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420