Judicial selection in Pennsylvania

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Pennsylvania
Seal of Pennsylvania.png
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Pennsylvania Superior Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Pennsylvania Magisterial Districts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years

Selection of state court judges in Pennsylvania occurs through partisan elections. While in most states elected judges run for re-election at the end of their term, judges in Pennsylvania run in yes-no retention elections if they wish to continue serving.[1]

Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, judges' terms begin and end on the first Monday in January following their election.[2]

Selection process

See also: Partisan election of judges

The seven justices of the supreme court, 15 judges of the superior court, nine judges of the commonwealth court and 439 judges of the court of common pleas are selected in an identical manner. They run in partisan primaries (in which candidates may cross-file with both political parties) followed by general elections in which the primary winners from each party compete.[1][3]

Elected judges serve ten-year terms, after which they must run in yes-no retention elections if they wish to continue serving. A separate part of the ballot is designated for these elections, and judges' names appear without respect to party affiliation.[1][4]

To learn more about these elections, visit the Pennsylvania judicial elections page.

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The appellate and general jurisdiction courts vary in their selection of the chief justice or judge:

  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court chooses its chief justice by seniority; the title is held by the longest-serving justice on the court.
  • Both the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court select their chief judges by peer vote. The chief serves in that capacity for five years.
  • The president judge of each Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas is chosen by either peer vote or seniority, depending on the size of the court. Statewide, all courts comprised of more than seven individuals must select their chief judge by peer vote. Those with seven or fewer members select their chief by seniority.[1][5]

Qualifications

To serve on an appellate or general jurisdiction court, a judge must:

  • have state residence for at least one year;
  • be a district resident for at least one year (for common pleas judges);
  • be a member of the state bar; and
  • be under the age of 70.[1]

While retirement at 70 is mandatory, judges may apply for senior judge status. Senior judges may serve as such until the last day of the calendar year in which they turn 78.[5]

See the Mandatory retirement age section below for information about relevant reform efforts.

Vacancies

See also: Gubernatorial appointment of judges

In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a successor who must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Pennsylvania Senate. Interim judges stand for election at the next municipal election occurring 10 or more months after the vacancy occurred.[1]

By tradition, appointed interim judges of the supreme court, superior court or court of appeals do not go on to run for permanent seats. In other words, the governor appoints these judges with the expectation that the judge will only fill the interim vacancy.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

See also: Partisan election of judges

Judges of Pennsylvania's limited jurisdiction courts, (the Pennsylvania Magisterial Districts, the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Philadelphia Traffic Court) are also selected in partisan elections. They serve six-year terms, after which they must run in yes-no retention elections if they wish to continue serving.[6][7]

Qualifications

The judicial qualifications are largely the same between the courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges must be:

  • a local resident for at least one year;
  • a state bar member;*
  • no younger than 21; and
  • no older than 70.[7]

*Traffic judges and magisterial district judges may alternatively pass a training course to sidestep the bar member requirement.[7]

News

Amendment to raise mandatory retirement age passes in state House

In February 2015, a constitutional amendment to raise Pennsylvania's mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75 was approved by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and sent to the senate. The house voted without debate, passing the measure 154 to 44.

If approved by the senate, the issue would be put to a voter referendum and appear on the 2015 ballot.[8]

Judges sue to raise mandatory retirement age

A number of Pennsylvania judges challenged the mandatory retirement age in 2013. They argued that the state was unnecessarily losing some of its best jurists through the practice, which required judges to retire from office when they turned 70.[9] Governor Tom Corbett supported the law as it stood, arguing that bringing in younger judges helps increase the manpower of the courts, and that the law protects people from the harm that could be caused by a few senile judges.[10]

Ultimately, the law was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 29, 2014.[11]

For more information, see: A Cross-Section of Trends in Judicial Retirement.

History

Selection methods in Pennsylvania have undergone significant changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

  • 1968: A new constitutional amendment brought multiple changes, establishing that:
  • 1964: Governor Scranton used a form of nominating commission when selecting interim judges to fill vacancies, becoming the first governor to do so.
  • 1921: The Act of 1913 was repealed, once again making appellate judicial elections partisan.
  • 1913: Appellate judicial elections were changed from partisan to nonpartisan. Candidates were barred from associating themselves with a political party within their campaign materials or on the ballot.
  • 1895: The Pennsylvania Superior Court was created.
  • 1874: Various changes were instated:
    • All judges were to be elected by popular vote.
    • Supreme court justices' term length was increased to 21 years (with justices not eligible for re-election).
    • All other judges' terms were increased to 10 years.
    • Two-thirds state senate approval was required for interim appointments.
  • 1850: Through constitutional amendment, partisan elections were adopted for all judges. Vacancies were to be filled by gubernatorial appointment until the next election.
  • 1838: Various changes were instated:
    • All judges were to be appointed by the governor with senate consent.
    • Supreme court justices' terms were changed to 15 years and court of common pleas judges to five years (except presiding judges, who serve for 10 years).
  • 1790: All judges were appointed for life by the governor.
  • 1776: Under the state's original constitution, all judges were appointed to seven-year terms by an executive council. The council's twelve members were elected by voters of the state's twelve counties.[12]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[13]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links

References

PennsylvaniaSupreme Court of PennsylvaniaPennsylvania Superior CourtPennsylvania Commonwealth CourtPennsylvania Court of Common PleasPennsylvania Magisterial DistrictsPhiladelphia Municipal CourtPhiladelphia Traffic CourtPittsburgh Municipal CourtUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of PennsylvaniaUnited States District Court for the Middle District of PennsylvaniaUnited States District Court for the Western District of PennsylvaniaUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of PennsylvaniaUnited States bankruptcy court, Middle District of PennsylvaniaUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of PennsylvaniaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Third CircuitPennsylvania countiesPennsylvania judicial newsPennsylvania judicial electionsJudicial selection in PennsylvaniaPennsylvaniaTemplate.jpg