The Pennsylvania Supreme Court needs to be able to deliver firm resolutions on cases, and not be split down the middle in its decisions, a (Harrisburg) Patriot-News editorial argues.
Currently, only six justices are actively serving on the bench. The seventh, Justice Joan Orie Melvin, has been suspended on corruption charges. The high court has been understaffed in this manner since May, the editorial says.
In the coming weeks, the court will hear arguments in three high profile cases which could have “an impact on the entire state” (see Gavel Grab). If any of the cases end in a three-three deadlock, it would be an “injustice,” the editorial argues. The court should appoint an interim seventh justice as a solution, it says.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association urged that approach in June. “It is of great importance to lawyers and litigants that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court return to its full complement of seven active justices as soon as possible,” wrote the state’s bar association president, Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr.
The editorial argues in favor of selecting a senior judge who has retired to fill the vacant spot on an interim basis. While this could cause concerns of political bias, it says, a majority of the current justices is needed to approve a nominee. At least one justice would need to side with those of the other political party for an interim appointee to win approval.
A lower court ruling will stand when justices split evenly on a decision, potentially rendering the state Supreme Court useless, the editorial states. Pennsylvania’s governor cannot appoint a new justice until Melvin is convicted and steps down, if that occurs.
If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wants to do its job, the editorial says, “it will fill its seventh chair and get back to the business of deciding things with finality.”