House Bill Introduces Constitutional Amendment Implementing Judicial Gerrymandering

January 21, 2021

In 2020, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed House Bill 196, which calls for a constitutional amendment implementing judicial gerrymandering. The proposal is up for consideration again during the 2021-2022 legislative session as House Bill 38. 

Details of the Proposed Amendment

Presently, Pennsylvania elects its appellate court and supreme court justices on a statewide basis. Under the proposed amendment, Pennsylvania would be divided into 15 Superior Court districts, nine Commonwealth Court districts, and seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court districts. Residents in each district would only get to elect one Superior Court judge, one Commonwealth Court judge, and one Supreme Court justice. 

Currently sitting judges and justices will have to re-run for seats, with judges and justices having to reside in the district from which they are being elected. This means that two or more current judges or justices who reside in the same district will have to run for the same seat.

How Judicial Gerrymandering Suppresses Equal Representation

Although proponents of the amendment claim that it will increase the geographic diversity of the judges and justices of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts, opponents argue that it actually serves to threaten the justices of the Supreme Court if they continue to oppose state Republican legislators and place greater importance on the Supreme Court’s selection of the fifth vote for the Reapportionment Commission.

Judicial gerrymandering would likely have the effect of disenfranchising voters. Since Pennsylvania’s appellate courts maintain statewide jurisdiction, that means that any litigant before the appellate courts will have elected, at most, only one of the judges or justices hearing their case. The Superior Court only initially hears cases in panels of three judges, so in that court there is a substantial likelihood that a litigant may not have had any say in electing any of the judges hearing their case.

This disenfranchisement will also disproportionately affect urban areas of the state, which tend to be the most ethnically and racially diverse. Even though proponents of the amendment claim to seek increased geographic diversity of the judiciary, the amendment will have the effect of reducing the number of judges from the most populated and diverse parts of Pennsylvania and increasing the number of judges from the least diverse parts of the state. 

Judicial gerrymandering might also give rise to the impression that judges will be beholden to the voters of their particular district and those voters’ interests, rather than being neutral parties simply applying the law of Pennsylvania. Currently, judges are already required to visit every part of the state during the statewide election process and in the course of their duties sitting and hearing cases, meaning that they are exposed to the unique aspects of every region of Pennsylvania.

The proposed judicial gerrymandering will also make the judiciary more beholden to the legislature and the whims of whatever political party happens to be in power, destroying the judiciary’s status as an independent, co-equal branch of government. 

How to Contact your State Legislator

If you oppose the efforts to implement judicial gerrymandering, you should contact your state legislators to voice your opposition. You can find out who your state legislators are and how to contact their offices at this website.

Contact a Pittsburgh Civil Rights Lawyer to Discuss Your Case in Pennsylvania

Did you or a loved one suffer a deprivation of your rights in Pennsylvania? Right now, you need an aggressive civil rights attorney on your side, fighting to protect your rights and interests and to get you the outcomes you deserve. The skilled civil rights attorneys at Goodrich & Geist, P.C. represent clients in Pittsburgh and the surrounding Western PA counties. Call (412) 766-1455 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 3634 California Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.