Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Senate bill proposes shrinking state supreme and superior courts

By Jim Boyle | Jun 10, 2014

A new bill approved by the Pennsylvania senate state government committee proposes

amending the state constitution to shrink offices in all three branches.

Sponsored by State Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), the original draft of Senate Bill 324 calls for reducing the number of senators by five seats, from 50 to 45. A committee-approved amendment inserted by Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) would also eliminate the office of lieutenant governor and cut back the state supreme court from seven to five members and the superior court from 13 to 11.

"I want to applaud and congratulate the committee for supporting these bills to reduce the size of state government," said Vogel in a statement. "I am well aware of how difficult it is to get legislators to vote for bills that could in reality get rid of their own jobs."

The committee also approved House Bill 1234, which would reduce the house of representatives from 203 to 153 districts. The changes would require revising the state constitution, which means the bills must be debated and passed by two full sessions of the house and senate. It would then be placed on the ballot for Pennsylvania voters.

Groups such as Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC) swiftly reacted to the bill's passage, saying that reducing judicial seats could be devastating for an extremely busy court system.

“The Superior Court is already one of the busiest in the country. Reducing the number of judges while the caseload remains the same will result in increased delays and fewer published opinions,” said Lynn Marks,  executive director of PMC. “And because the right to a speedy trial in criminal matters is a constitutionally protected right, the delays will disproportionately affect family court matters and business matters.”

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania consists of seven justices and hears appeals of cases with statewide impact as well as handles administrative matters, including developing court rules, handling personnel matters, and acting as the public face of the Pennsylvania justice system.

“Reducing the number of justices will likely have a negative impact on how the entire court system functions and lead to a decrease in the number of cases the Supreme Court agrees to hear,” said Marks. “The potential negative impact of these provisions cannot be overstated.”

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