HARRISBURG – The state Senate today voted to adopt historic legislation that changes the way legislative and Congressional districts are created, as well as how appellate court judges are elected, according to Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), who supported the measure.
Senate Bill 22 would create an independent redistricting commission made up of 11 Pennsylvania citizens who would be responsible for drawing the boundaries of legislative and Congressional districts. Elected officials, candidates for public office, lobbyists and legislative staff would be prohibited from serving on the commission. The makeup of the commission will be required to represent the geographic, gender and racial diversity of the state.
The bill also changes the way that appellate court judges are elected. In current practice, members of the state Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court are elected via a statewide vote. Senate Bill 22 would divide the state into seven Supreme Court districts, 15 Superior Court districts and nine Commonwealth Court districts to ensure a broader range of regional interests are represented on Pennsylvania’s highest courts.
“It’s very well known that people often vote for appellate court judges knowing very little about them,” Sen. Yaw said. “Under this bill, candidates for appellate seats would be required to reside in the district they would represent on the court. The bill further provides for a more proportionate representation on the appellate judicial bench.”
Cursory review of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court and Commonwealth Court judge compliment shows that more than half of all the members of those courts are from only two of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, which only represent 21% of the state’s population. Five of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices, or over two-thirds of the justices, are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79% of the state’s population unrepresented on Pennsylvania’s highest court.
Because Senate Bill 22 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
“I am hopeful that we can give the people of Pennsylvania the final say on how legislative, Congressional and judicial districts are drawn,” Sen. Yaw said.
Senate Bill 22 has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Rita Zielonis, Chief of Staff