Pa. Supremes Just Being Good Neo-Feudalists

Bob Guzzardi has received the email below  from Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli concerning what appears to be an attempt to manipulate the law to extend the term of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief  Justice Ron Castille and four other Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices who will be turning 70 by invalidating the Constitutionally mandated retirement age of 70  (six of the remaining unconvicted justices will be gone in eight years under the mandatory retirment rule so there is a lot of self-interest in the mandatory retirement case as DA Morganelli points out.)
There are solid reasons to retain the mandatory retirement age, not the least of which is restraining the power of government by diluting the power of a few.
Supreme Court Justice Castille and Justice Max Baer will be seeking retention in November 2013.

Morganelli is a Democrat. He also happens to be right on this issue.

From District Attorney John Morganelli:
Pennsylvania's Constitutional Crisis: Will Judicial Self-Interest Trump the Constitution? 
Judges are sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect our constitutional form of government.  But what happens when judicial self-interest collides with the Constitution? Pennsylvania may be  on the precipice of a constitutional crisis. 
In 1989 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Pennsylvania's Constitution which prohibits a judge to remain in office after the age of 70. Since then,  numerous judges have  retired at 70. But recently, a number of jurists  filed lawsuits challenging the restriction.  Then, the Chief Justice, who coincidentally  turns 70 next year, announced that he would seek retention for another 10 year term on the high court even  though next year would be his last if the age restriction remains in place. Next, the eyebrows of many attorneys were raised when the Supreme Court  reached down, bypassing the lower court, and agreed to hear and expedite one of those cases. Is there  anyone who actually believes that despite the clear precedent, all these judges  suddenly woke up one morning and, independently of each other,  decided to sue?  
 When these actions were filed,  many lawyers questioned  “why” when similar challenges had always failed. A previous panel of the Supreme Court upheld the age restriction in the  Constitution which was approved by the people at the ballot box. In 1991, the US Supreme Court upheld a similar restriction in Missouri's state constitution. The question is: What has changed? And, what is the rush ? Judges have been retiring for decades at 70.  Pennsylvania judges campaigned knowing their terms were limited by mandatory retirement. Most of them would not have had an opportunity to be a judge but for the age restriction which forced judges to retire and created vacancies.  Now, some want to change the rules and strike down the Constitution on the way.
Many believe that the high court wants a speedy decision  so that a potential ruling can benefit the Chief Justice and the  other 4 Justices who are turning 70 in the next few years.  All of this has fueled speculation by the legal community that the litigation may have been encouraged by a member of the Supreme  Court  itself.  Will any of the Justices recuse themselves? Or, will  the court  assert that the "Rule of Necessity" permits them to hear this case even though all of the Justices have a personal and financial interest in setting aside the prohibition? The "rule of necessity"  is  an exception to the disqualification of a judge who has  a conflict of interest. But it only applies when no other tribunal is available to hear the dispute. Here, there exists a companion  federal action which has now been stayed to allow the Supreme Court to act first and make moot the federal case. 
Interestingly, the Supreme Court has ordered  the lawyers to specifically  address Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Declaration of Rights  which provides in Section 26  that neither the Commonwealth nor any political subdivision may discriminate against any person in the exercise of any "civil right." However, the Supreme Court previously  held that the age restriction   did not violate the Declaration of Rights Discrimination provision. It recognized that that provision was intended to restrain "government", and that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Rights do not restrain the power of the people themselves as expressed in the Constitution. Gondelman v. Commonwealth 554 A2d 896 (1989). This provision was intended to prevent "government" from transgressing individuals' basic "civil rights". The US Supreme Court in 1991 settled the question that being a judge is not a fundamental right. Gregory v. Ashcroft  501 US 454. Nevertheless,  the Supreme Court now may be  poised to overrule years of precedent by proclaiming that the age restriction is inconsistent with the discrimination clause thus allowing them to get what they want, trample on the Constitution,  and  at the same time maintain that they are actually upholding the constitution. 
It appears imprudent  for the Supreme Court to hear this case. This court has been tarnished by the recent conviction of one of the Justices. The Pennsylvania  judiciary in general has been harmed by the  "Kids for Cash" scandal, the Philadelphia Traffic Court report as well as other matters.  The integrity of our courts and of the  judges who sit on them is fundamental to our  system. Taking this case and setting aside the Constitution will be harmful. The  Justices sit at the pinnacle of power, and it is understandable how some may not want to relinquish it.  Like it or not, our Constitution, passed  by the people sets age limits on the ability to exercise that power.  For those who believe that the age restriction is subject to fair debate, the proper method is to amend Pennsylvania' s Constitution through  the process established: approval by two consecutive  sessions of the legislature, and approval of the people at the ballot box. Setting aside Pennsylvania's Constitution via judicial fiat by Justices with a personal and financial interest in the outcome is dangerous and wrong.  Only time will tell whether self-interest trumps the Constitution.
John M. Morganelli is the District Attorney of Northampton County and Past President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. He was the  Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General in 2008.


What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.
  • No comments exist for this post.
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.