Tag Archives: PA Supreme Court

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

“Highest integrity and character”: the case of Joan Orie Melvin

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 1/19/13

I particularly noted the 2009 claim that Judge Orie Melvin had “the highest integrity and character.”

In today’s (1/19/13) Daily Local News, Joe Mandak’s AP story “DA wants to bar Melvin from raising trial” (not on DLN site; see it at PhillyBurbs.com) reminds us of the sorry story of now suspended PA Supreme Court Justice Orie Melvin, who has been on trial for using state employees’ tax-payer-paid time on personal campaigns.

To make matters worse, one of her two sisters, a former PA State Senator, is already in jail for the same offense, and another sister–a former member of Melvin’s staff in the Supreme Court–will be going on trial soon for being part of such schemes.

You can find details in “DA responds to Pa. justice’s Supreme Court appeal” by Joe Mandak, AP, Daily Local News, 1/10/13….

keep reading at Politics: A View from West Chester

Binder Urges Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Uphold Ruling on ACT 13

October 17, 2012

Bret Binder (D) Urges Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Uphold Ruling on ACT 13

West Chester, PA –The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on an appeal of the Commonwealth Court decision that overturned ACT 13’s limitation of local zoning control state wide. Act 13 was passed by the legislature earlier this year despite the outcries of environmental groups.

Considered to be one of the most gas and oil company friendly laws in the nation, among the main giveaways to gas and oil companies was the elimination of local control township oversight through zoning ordinances to decide where drilling could occur.

Speaking to supporters, Bret Binder, Democratic Party Candidate for the 156th District State House race, stated, “We must insure that our local government, our townships and municipalities, have the ability to protect our environment.”

Environmental groups, such as Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and Conversation Voters of PA, castigated the passing of ACT 13.

Joe Nye, Program Organizer for the nationally acclaimed environmental group Clean Water Action, stated, “The passage of Act 13 did a real injustice to Pennsylvania’s citizens. It put our drinking water supplies and our communities’ health at risk for the sake of creating larger profits for the oil industry. The legislators who voted for the passage of Act 13 must be held accountable for their decision to take away local zoning rights from municipalities in Pennsylvania.”

Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, voiced similar sentiments stating, “Act 13 is one of the worst pieces of environmental legislation to be passed in Pennsylvania and speaks volumes about whose interests the majority of the Legislature and the Governor are protecting.”

Following Act 13’s passage seven municipalities sued and prevailed when the PA Commonwealth Court ruled that the legislature’s attempt to override local zoning control was unconstitutional.  

Binder stated that “Overturning this unconstitutional portion of the bill was an important victory for Pennsylvanians. I believe that Act 13 needs to be re-drafted to include stronger environmental oversight and fair taxation of the gas companies. I hope that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will uphold the ruling of the Commonwealth Court.”

Bret Binder’s opposition, Republican Dan Truitt, disagreed ACT 13 was a giveaway to the gas and oil industry. Truitt’s campaign has issued statements that Truitt was “Making gas drillers pay” and that by passing “a new law” Truitt had “implement[ed] environmental oversight that is among the toughest in the nation.”

In a response to reporters, Bret Binder argued that his opponent is misleading our community, “His ‘environmental impact fee’ is an effective taxation of approximately 1% when we need to be taxing at a rate of 6-9%, in line with the national average. Our failure to fairly tax gas and oil companies is costing Pennsylvania approximately $400 million per year in revenue.

When I debated my opponent on this issue he argued that 1% was high enough and he was willing to settle for a quarter loaf. I’m not willing to settle for less than what I believe is right and will fight for the full loaf.  We must make these special interests pay their fair share and we must protect our environment.”

Josh McNeil of Conservation Voters said “Representative Truitt put the interests of his constituents aside in order to follow the orders of Governor Corbett and the gas industry lobbyists.” Brady Russell of Clean Water Action said that his organization “urges its members to come out and vote for change in representation and support Bret Binder.”

Binder has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Voters.

For Additional information, please contact:
Mike Leibowitz, Campaign Press Assistant
803 West Market Street
West Chester, PA 19382

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules against Voter ID, for now

by Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, 9/18/12

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has vacated a lower court ruling that had upheld the state’s voter ID law, setting the stage for the law to be blocked before the November elections.

Because of evidence suggesting the state has not provided sufficient access to voter identification cards, the Court returned the case for reconsideration to lower court Judge Robert Simpson,who upheld the law last month….

Pennsylvania’s law requires the state to provide a free voter identification card to citizens who lack the kind of ID required to vote, but the court found that Pennsylvania has not actually provided the easy access to the new ID cards required under the law — increasing the risk that many Pennsylvanians will not be able to vote in November.

Under Homeland Security requirements, an individual can only receive a state-issued ID card from the Department of Transportation if they provide supporting documents like a birth certificate and proof of residency. These are more stringent requirements than anticipated in the voter ID legislation, which requires the state provide a voter identification card to anybody who swears they need one. Plans to provide a voter ID card not subject to Homeland Security requirements are not complete and those cards will not be ready until just shortly before the November election, and even then they may not be freely available….

Like most of the 37 states that have introduced strict voter ID bills since 2011, Pennsylvania’s law reflects elements of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and was introduced by an ALEC member. In June, Rep. Mike Turzai (R), also an ALEC member, declared that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”…

read the full article and see links at Center for Media and Democracy