Pointless pettiness is bad politics.
The Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that judges retire at age 70. Some thought that was too early and wanted to make it age 75. The amendment process requires one of the legislative chambers — both of which have been under Republican control since 2011 — to write the amendment. It is then advertised in at least two newspapers in every county at least three months before the next general election. It then must be passed again via simple majority by both chambers in the next session. The wording is then placed on a ballot as a referendum giving the general public final say.
The chambers approved this: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and justices of the peace (known as magisterial district judges) be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years, instead of the current requirement that they be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 70?
The referendum was scheduled for the April 26 primary and the mandated advertising — costing the public $1.3 million — was performed.
The Senate leadership had second thoughts, however. Cynics are saying they feared the public might vote it down which would have forced the removal of Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, giving the Democrats control of the state Supreme Court.
So they filed a legal challenge claiming the words were too confusing. The state Supreme Court laughed and threw it out.
The legislature then passed resolutions, April 6 and April 11 invalidating the election two weeks away. They re-wrote the amendment for the Nov. 8 general election as: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices, judges and justices of the peace be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years.
Democrats filed a legal challenge saying the delay was unconstitutional because the legislation was not presented to Gov. Wolf as required. Commonwealth Court rejected the argument.
They filed another challenge saying the delay illegal because it was political in nature. Commonwealth Court rejected this claim on July 6.
A challenged was filed on July 21 by former Supreme Court justices Ronald Castille and Stephen Zappala Sr, and Philadelphia attorney Richard Sprague saying the new wording was deceitful.
Supreme Court took the case and voted 3-3 which left the wording as the short version. Saylor appropriately recused himself.
Yesterday, Sept. 16, the court ruled 4-2 that the case can’t be reconsidered, hence the short version without the mention of an existing mandated retirement age is what the voters will see.
The Court got it right with the last argument. It isn’t their job to determine the wording of amendments. On the other hand, it is judiciary’s job to judge process and if constitutional amendments require legislative votes in consecutive sessions with advertising in between, then one wonders how changes in the wording can be made at the last minute.
And what’s it say about our solons if they can’t get it right in the first place?
The word changes are pointless gamesmanship and political pettiness at the highest level. This stuff always backfires especially when one learns it has wasted $1.3 million of our money.
And, for what it’s worth, the retirement age should not be increased. Vote this amendment down on Nov. 8.
Pointless Pettiness Is Bad Politics