PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION OPPOSING THE ELECTION OF PENNSYLVANIA APPELLATE COURT JUDGES BY DISTRICT

WHEREAS, a judiciary which possesses institutional and decisional independence, removed from influences of the political process, is central to the success of a republican form of government; and

WHEREAS, judicial independence makes a system of impartial justice possible by enabling judges to protect and enforce the rights of the people, and by allowing them without fear of reprisal to strike down actions of the legislative and executive branches of government which run afoul of the Constitution; and

WHEREAS, racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity is vital to a well-functioning court system, one that draws from as broad a pool of talented lawyers as possible, fosters robust deliberation that reflects different life perspectives, and engenders confidence within the communities it serves; and

WHEREAS, House Bill 196, Printer’s Number 168 (“HB 196”), proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to change the method by which statewide appellate court judges are chosen in a way that would diminish essential divisions between the branches of government and reduce opportunities for diversity, thus eroding public confidence in the judiciary and undermining the fair and impartial administration of justice in our Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, the constitutional amendment proposed in HB 196 would divide the Commonwealth into districts by population, with voters choosing one judge or justice for each appellate court; and

WHEREAS, electing judges by individual district is contrary to one of the key purposes of a statewide appellate court, which is to make decisions that have statewide impact; and

WHEREAS, the constitutional amendment proposed in HB 196 represents an intrusion by the executive and legislative branches into the independence of the judiciary by subjecting judicial districts to potential gerrymandering, to the benefit of the political party in power when district boundaries are drawn; and

WHEREAS, the constitutional amendment proposed in HB 196 represents an intrusion by the executive and legislative branches into the independence of the judiciary by subjecting justices and judges to potential political retribution by having their districts redrawn to diminish their prospects for retention; and

WHEREAS, the division of the Commonwealth into small districts diminishes the opportunity of voters to choose from an array of diverse candidates drawn from a large and varied pool of individuals from across this great Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, the perception of political pressure and influence in determining judicial districts and in deciding cases, combined with diminished opportunities for diversity, will erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary and in our government.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association opposes House Bill 196, Printer’s Number 168, and any similar legislation which would propose the amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution to elect statewide appellate court judges by population-based district.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Governors authorizes the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor’s designee(s) to communicate the Philadelphia Bar Association’s position opposing House Bill 196, Printer’s Number 168, and any similar legislation to the Governor, the General Assembly, the legal community, and the public and take whatever action is necessary to effectuate this resolution.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATON
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: March 26, 2020