On judge retirement ballot question: are politics at play?

Topic to be discussed at Sept. 30 town hall

If you have attended any of my 56 Town Halls in the past five and a half years, you have most likely heard me say that in Harrisburg I witness politics trumping policy at the expense of the greater good of our citizens with alarming frequency.

On the ballot on November 8th is a proposed amendment to our state constitution that if voted affirmatively will increase the age of mandatory retirement for judges from 70 to 75.

To amend our state constitution, legislation must pass both chambers of the PA House and Senate in two successive sessions. Appropriate notice is then provided to citizens, and the amendment will appear on the ballot for citizens to ultimately decide.

This particular amendment has had multiple challenges and lawsuits. First, it was to appear on the ballot on April 26th – the date of the primary election. It actually was on the ballot, however, the majority party in the General Assembly thought the language was confusing and had it postponed at the last minute. The wording is below – you decide the clarity.

"Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and justices of the peace (known as magisterial district judges) be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years, instead of the current requirement that they be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 70?"

The new wording could lead voters to believe that a mandatory retirement age is being imposed for the first time and with the retirement age being 75. The wording is below:

“Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices, of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?”

Statistically, efforts to raise the retirement age of judges in other states have failed as voters have not wanted to extend the opportunity for time on the bench.

The backstory is as follows: the current Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court is Thomas Saylor, a Republican, and he is currently the only elected Republican on the court after the resignation in March 2016 of Justice Michael Eakin. Chief Justice Saylor turns 70 this year and will have to leave the bench by December 31st unless this ballot initiative passes. A Democrat would then assume the role of Chief Justice.

The majority party has denied that this is the motivating factor. You decide – did politics trump policy?

  • Hon. Pamela A. DeLissio

DeLissio represents the 194th Legislation District in Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.

 

She will discuss two constitutional-amendment questions on November’s ballot during a town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, in the Wolcoff Auditorium, Roxborough Memorial Hospital, 5800 Ridge Ave. Slated for the ballot is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if voted affirmatively, would increase the age of mandatory retirement for judges from 70 to 75.

The second question to be discussed asks citizens if they believe that the size of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives should be reduced.

If you have thoughts or comments, and cannot attend Friday’s town hall, please email RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or call her district office at 215-482-8726.