DeLissio advises of judicial ballot question on Nov. 8
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 2 – State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-Montgomery/Phila., said she continues to be amazed over the confusion and turmoil that has resulted in what should have been a simple ballot question put to voters regarding the retention of judges in Pennsylvania. She is encouraging voters to review its history to better understand what they will be voting on Nov. 8.
On the Nov. 8 General Election ballot is a proposed amendment to Pennsylvania’s Constitution that, if voted affirmatively, would increase the age of mandatory retirement for all judges from 70 to 75.
“Constituents who have attended any of my 56 Town Halls in the past five and half years 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 and this ballot initiative is an example of that maneuvering,” DeLissio said.
To amend the state constitution, legislation must pass both chambers of the House and Senate in two successive legislative sessions. Appropriate notice is then provided to citizens and the amendment will appear on the ballot for citizens to ultimately decide.
DeLissio said the question that will be put to voters regarding the constitutional amendment has had many twists and turns on its way to November’s ballot, involving multiple court challenges and lawsuits. It was first advertised to appear on the April 26 Primary Election ballot and, in fact, was on the ballot. However, the majority party in the General Assembly said the language was confusing and successfully had the question stopped from being counted at the last minute. Additional court challenges led to a new question that will appear in November.
The wording that voters saw in the Primary Election but that was not counted read, "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."
DeLissio said she believes the wording was clear and said the new wording could lead November’s voters to think that a mandatory retirement age is being imposed for the first time and with the retirement age being 75.
The wording that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot reads, “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.
DeLissio said the backstory of Pennsylvania’s current Supreme Court makeup raises legitimate questions about the motivations for pursuing challenges to the original ballot question.
In Pennsylvania, the current chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is Thomas Saylor, a Republican. He is currently the only elected Republican on the court after the resignation of Justice Michael Eakin in March. Saylor turns 70 this year and will be required to leave the bench by Dec. 31 unless this ballot initiative passes. If it doesn’t, a Democrat would then assume the role of chief justice.
“The majority party have denied that this is the motivating factor for their challenges,” DeLissio said. “You decide – did politics trump policy?”
DeLissio encourages constituents with thoughts or comments about the proposed amendment to email her at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or call her office at 215-482-8726.