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Opposition to House Bill 38

Posted on January 12th, 2022 at 10:10 AM

The ECBA’s Board of Directors has been following House Bill 38, posing an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would create judicial districts for the purpose of electing judges and justices to Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.

The Board opposes this legislation for several reasons.

It is extremely important that the judiciary possess and be recognized as being independent and removed from the influences of the political process.

House Bill 38 would take away our voice as Pennsylvania voters to elect appellate judges, who every day make decisions on cases drawn from across the state that have statewide impact. Currently, voters have a say in the election of all 31 judges on the state Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court. If this measure is passed, voters would be eligible to cast a ballot for just three judges – one Supreme Court judge, one Superior Court judge, and one Commonwealth Court judge. Instead of casting a ballot for a statewide judge nearly every year, voters would only do so once a decade.

The legislation also puts judicial independence at risk. Our appellate court system is statewide by design, ensuring that a judge’s only constituency is the law. The Erie County Bar Association has always been a strong advocate for judicial independence and for electing a qualified, diverse pool of judges at both the city and statewide level. House Bill 38 is a threat to both judicial independence and the quality of our judiciary, to the detriment of all who reside in the Commonwealth.

Judges represent law, not a geographic area. Unlike the executive and legislative branches that represent constituents’ policy preferences when making decisions, the judiciary impartially interprets and applies the law even when it protects marginalized communities and the politically unpopular. Any attempt, like HB 38, to remake the courts as entities responsive and beholden to the views of their constituents undermines the court’s ability to protect civil rights and civil liberties against the tyranny of the political majority.

For these reasons, the Erie County Bar Association Board of Directors urges you to contact your legislator and urge him/her to vote against House Bill 38.