Tag Archives: PA Supreme Court

To retake the Pennsylvania legislature, Democrats first must regain the state Supreme Court

by Stephen Wolf, Daily Kos, 7/30/15

When we think of important elections in America, typically the list starts with the president, then Congress, governors, etc., while judicial elections are a lower priority for voters. Foreign election observers might even be shocked we elect judges at all, a system that Europeans and our own federal government have largely eschewed. So it may come as a surprise to learn just how important this November’s three state Supreme Court races are in Pennsylvania.

These elections are critical not just because Democrats might retake a majority on the high court for the first time in years: They will determine how easy it will be for either party to win the legislature during the next decade. Whichever party controls the court appoints a tie-breaking member to the redistricting commission and most recently, that has been a Republican who voted for partisan gerrymanders. In 2012, that system led to Republicans winning the legislature despite losing the popular vote because they had drawn the maps. The new maps were used for the first time during the 2014 red wave, and Republicans won their largest majorities in generations even though Democrats decisively unseated unpopular GOP Gov. Tom Corbett….

keep reading at Daily Kos

What a Week to Be a Democrat!

Did you see the new Supreme Court ruling??

The Supreme Court affirms the Affordable Care Act, marriage equality is the law of the land, and the NRA loses one in Pennsylvania – what a week!

Each of these progressive victories happened because our party was able to put sensible, thoughtful judges onto courts in Washington and Harrisburg. Contribute here to help us do it again!

These are the stakes …These are the stakes

As you already know, this November there will be three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Do you believe conservatives will sit on their hands when this next Court has the potential to rule on redistricting, voter ID, or grand jury reform? With a 2 to 2 split on the bench right now, it is absolutely critical that we work to send OUR candidates to Harrisburg.

Help support Judge Kevin Dougherty, Judge David Wecht, and Judge Christine Donohue in this year’s most important race. With “Independent Expenditure” groups like the Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity poised to jump into our State, we all need to pitch in. Even a small contribution of $3, $5, or $10 can go a long way to winning in November!

Contribute Here

Thanks for being such a strong supporter, and for helping to make a difference!

Brian McGinnis
Chair, Chester County Democratic Committee

A great week for Democrats

by Dick Bingham

The week of June 22 will go down in history as a great week for Democrats, a great week for Pennsylvanians and a great week for our country.

On Thursday, June 25, PA’s Commonwealth Court judged as unconstitutional a controversial law, supported strongly by the National Rifle Association, that allowed any legal gun owner to sue Philadelphia and other municipalities over local gun ordinances that are stricter than state law and force those municipalities to pay attorney fees.

Also on Thursday the US Supreme Court upheld the right of the US government to provide subsidies to help its low income citizens obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act no matter where they live. And on Friday, June 26, the US Supreme Court ruled same sex marriage must be legal and recognized in all states.

These three rulings illustrate two messages loudly and clearly:

Freedom, fairness and opportunity for all are alive and well.

Elections matter.  We need to do everything in our power to elect Democrats to the courts in Pennsylvania this fall (Nov. 3) and to elect a Democratic president and a Senate that is Democratically controlled in 2016.  If we do not succeed, the risk of losing close decisions in the courts increases dramatically.

It was, indeed, a great week for Democrats.  It reminds us what we can accomplish when we work hard to get voters to the polls each and every election.

Dick Bingham
Chair, Kennett Area Democrats

Tea Party Group Urges Ouster of Supreme Court Judges

[This is so notable that comment is required. First, the Tea Party seems determined to play along with the Governor’s vote suppression plan (for local comment on that, along party lines, see the Daily Local News). The plan is still being held up in the courts and could be headed back to the PA Supreme Court.

In addition, the organization calling for these two judges to be rejected is the one whose Vice President for Pennsylvania, Sean Carpenter, has just proclaimed that the current West Chester Area school board, to which he is seeking reelection on Nov. 5, is “the least political board that has been sitting in that position for decades.” For background and refutation, see “WCASD race: Fiction of the Week award: ‘The least political board'” at West Chester Borough Democrats, 10/30/13.

Once again Carpenter, to use his own phrase, is firing a “shot over the bough [sic]“–this time, the bow of the PA Supreme Court as well as the mainstream Republican party.

For the text of the press release, see “Tea Party Group Urges ‘No’ Vote on PA Supreme Court Justices,” Pottstown Mercury, 10/31/13.

Voters beware, that’s all we can add.]

by Nick Field, PoliticsPA, 11/1/13

Normally, the judges on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court don’t have to worry much about whether or not they will be retained by voters. This year, however, Justices Castille and Baer will face some opposition.

The Independence Hall Tea Party PAC released a press release today urging voters to vote “No” in Tuesday’s election for the retention of both justices. The group’s anger stems from the failure of the Court to uphold the controversial voter ID law that was passed and signed into law by Governor Corbett.

“The Independence Hall Tea Party worked extremely hard to help get Voter ID passed–beginning in November 2010,” said PAC President, Don Adams.

“We have contacted over 170 Tea Party and Patriot groups across Pennsylvania to ask that they join us in urging the rejection of Justices Ron Castille and Max Baer for their role in obstructing the implementation of the Voter ID law in both the 2012 and 2013 Pennsylvania Primary and General Elections.”

Although the group pledged to take this course of action last year if the law was struck down, it still comes as a bit of a surprise. Chief Justice Ron Castille is a Republican and Associate Justice Max Baer is a Democrat, yet both the state Democratic and Republican parties have officially endorsed the retention of each judge….

keep reading at PoliticsPA

Atty. Sam Stretton on PA House and Senate redistricting

[Readers will recall that in January 2012, the PA Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional a Republican plan to redistrict the state House and Senate districts. Harrisburg subsequently came in with a second plan, to which, along with others’ challenges, West Chester attorney Sam Stretton again filed an appeal on behalf of Chester County Democrats, two municipalities, and individuals. For where the situation stood last summer, see Redistricting update, 7/26/12; for more background, see 4/21 forum on “The Great Pennsylvania Redistricting Reversal of 2012,” 4/17/12.

On May 8, 2013, the PA Supreme Court approved the second, also politically motivated, plan; see State Supreme Court OKs new voting districts, Daily Local News, 5/8/13. A 5/13/13 Daily Local editorial, State redistricting breaks constitutional rule about splitting towns, reprinted from the Pottstown Mercury, shows that this second plan should also have been rejected for splitting too many municipalities, most notably Pottstown and Phoenixville, between different districts.

For a detailed description of the districts that will take effect next year, see here.

At the May 8 Chester County Democratic Committee executive committee meeting, attorney Sam Stretton likewise expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s action; he has kindly summarized his thoughts below.]

In reference to the recent reapportionment decision, I have a few comments. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the standard of review as de nova and not deferential (there was a dissent on that issue by one Justice). But the opinion itself is rather disappointing. The opinion seems to be deferential to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission even though the Court says it’s not.

What is particularly disappointing to me in the decision was the acceptance by the Supreme Court that incumbency and political considerations are very much okay in deciding reapportionment. These, according to the Court, are permissible factors. I strongly disagree with that.

The map, in my mind, is very badly drawn. Just to give you an example, in Northeast Philadelphia there are legislative districts that split through 8 Wards; it’s just a total mess and there is no neighborhood integrity in most of Philadelphia. This is also true in other areas. As you know, they split Phoenixville, which is an old borough.

There is nowhere else to go and the plan has now been approved. I wonder what it is going to be like in 2021 and 2022 when this starts again. The opinions are high-minded and well written, but from a practical standpoint this last decision seems to cut against all the high-minded language.

Political parties to chose jury commissioner candidates

by Michael P. Rellahan, Daily Local News, 3/18/13

Local political parties, and not the voters themselves, will choose who is listed for jury commissioner on the November general election ballot, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The position was delisted from the Municipal Primary in Chester County and several other counties when the commissioners last year voted to abolish the decades-old office responsible for selection of the county’s jury pool. But that decision was thrown into turmoil last week when the state Supreme Court voided the law that allowed counties to do that.

By a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court justices said that the General Assembly had used an unconstitutional route to pass the legislation by attaching it to another bill that had nothing to do with the jury system in the state.

For now, the voters will be asked to select two jury commissioners in the fall, one from the Democratic Party and one from the Republican Party. The two political committees will have until Sept. 15 to select and certify the candidates they want to run for the position, unless something intervenes.

Jury commissioners traditionally help ensure that trial jurors reflect a cross-section of society and deal with juror problems. But critics in some counties argued that the job is no longer needed, thanks to computerization, and that the duties are often performed by court staff.

The Legislature in 2011 gave all counties that have commissioners a means of doing away with them, and dozens did so. But the justices say the change was impermissibly tied with a measure that dealt with electronic auctions by counties and not the court system. The state constitution says bills can’t have more than one subject. …

keep reading at Daily Local News

Jury commissioner abolition overturned

by Michele Vaughn

Congratulations to Sam Stretton on the winning the case before the PA Supreme Court. Judge Max Baer wrote the opinion for the court opposing the law allowing abolishing of the jury commissioner posts!

Congratulations to Jury Commissioner Martha Smith who believed in the importance of the jury commissioner role to maintaining an impartial jury selection process. Martha is a another champion of Democratic causes here in Chester County. Martha organized and spearheaded the pursuit of this case in partnership with her colleagues across the state. Way to go Martha!

Matt Miller, “PA Supreme Court overturns law allowing abolition of county jury commissioner posts,” Patriot News, 3/14/13:

A two-year-old state law that has allowed several Pennsylvania counties, including Cumberland and Lebanon counties, to eliminate their controversial jury commissioner posts was overturned Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court didn’t void Act 108 of 2011 because it believes the elected jury commissioner jobs, which critics claim are outmoded, should stay.

Instead, it found that the authority given to county commissioners to abolish the jury commissioner posts under Act 108 was improperly added to an original bill that was designed only to give county commissioners the power to hold private property and farm surplus auctions online….

keep reading at the Patriot News

3 Political Sisters Convicted Of Corruption: Joan Orie Melvin, Janine Orie Found Guilty In Pa. Court

By JOE MANDAK and PETER JACKSON, Huffington Post, 02/23/13

PITTSBURGH — The story has more irony than a Greek tragedy. Three sisters from a devoutly Catholic family have seen their personal and political careers ruined by a scandal that began with, of all things, a letter to some nuns.

Thursday’s conviction of suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin along with her aide and sister, Janine Orie, on campaign corruption charges mean they might join a third sister – former state Sen. Jane Orie – in state prison. No sentencing date has been set.

The former senator was sentenced last year to 2 1/2 to 10 years for using her state-paid staff to run her campaigns, though she was acquitted of having them campaign for Melvin, then a lower appellate court judge, who was running for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Joan Orie Melvin and Janine Orie were convicted in a spinoff investigation and found guilty of similarly misusing Melvin’s former staff and the senator’s….

keep reading at Huffington Post