(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 Ryan Aument (R-36).
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.
“The experiences and perspectives of residents in Lancaster County differ from those experienced by residents in Erie, McKean, Susquehanna, and certainly Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties,” said Aument. “These differences – the diversity of our Commonwealth – should be reflected by the court as judges look through the lens of their personal experiences, judicial philosophy, and worldview to fairly apply the law.”
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.
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.
“In the end, it is ultimately the people of this state that will decide what system should be used to elect our judges, because constitutional amendments must be approved by voters at the ballot box,” said Aument. “This approach empowers the residents of Pennsylvania to make their own decisions about how this Commonwealth is governed and it restores the proper balance of power to prioritize people over special interests.”
Additional information on judicial districts, House Bill 196, and more can be found at https://www.senatoraument.com/fair-judicial-districts/.
Read a copy of Senator Aument’s floor remarks on House Bill 196 here.
CONTACT: Ryan Boop (717) 787-4420