Measure Added to Legislative Redistricting Reform Bill
HARRISBURG – By a vote of 31-18, the Senate today adopted an amendment offered by Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) 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 amendment to the Constitution of Pennsylvania, which was incorporated into Senate Bill 22, another constitutional reform designed to promote more fairness in the legislative redistricting process, 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 using whatever process is utilized for the establishment of Congressional districts, which, under Senate Bill 22, would be created through an Independent Reapportionment and Redistricting Commission. Importantly, candidates for appellate seats would be required to reside in the district they would represent on the court.
“The law belongs to the people, not just politicians and those who practice law,’” 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, which was first authorized by Pennsylvania voters after the constitutional convention of 1874.
“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. “There is no harm in allowing the people to consider this important reform to their constitution, and I am hopeful they have that opportunity in 2019.”
CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420