HARRISBURG – The membership of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts would reflect the regional diversity of Pennsylvania under a sweeping judicial election reform approved by the Senate today, according to Senator Mario Scavello (R-40).
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 state appellate courts are elected via a statewide vote. As a result, 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.
In addition, 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.
“Statewide courts should have statewide representation,” Scavello said. “Regionalizing the representation on the courts would allow for greater representation statewide and more fair decision-making. Judges coming from different regions of the Commonwealth have the ability to share knowledge of those different regions with their peers on the courts.”
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.
Approximately sixteen other states elect some or all 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.
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