Pennsylvania's Hugely Significant Obscure Election

I thought I knew about all of the important votes that were taking place Tuesday, but clearly I was wrong. In Pennsylvania, a judicial election ...
by | October 28, 2009

I thought I knew about all of the important votes that were taking place Tuesday, but clearly I was wrong. In Pennsylvania, a judicial election may determine which party controls the state legislature for the next decade.

The explanation why is fairly convoluted. In Pennsylvania, legislative redistricting (not congressional redistricting) is conducted by a five-member commission. Four members of that commission are picked by the majority and minority leaders of each house of the legislature (so two Republicans and two Democrats). Those four members are supposed to select the fifth member.

If they can't agree (and everyone seems to presume they won't be able to) the state Supreme Court chooses the fifth member. That means that in Pennsylvania, which elects its judges, control of the court is key. Here's more from the Philadelphia Inquirer on the election this fall that will determine which party has a majority on the court (I'm not sure why the Inquirer mentions congressional redistricting because Pennsylvania is not a state where congressional districts are redrawn by a commission):

Except for the mild heat generated by a recent round of TV ads, the Supreme Court battle next Tuesday between Orie Melvin, a Republican, and Democrat Jack Panella has received little public notice. Turnout for the election may be the lowest in Pennsylvania in years.

But state Democratic leaders are just as frank as top Republicans in saying that to them, the court fight is all-important. It could influence the once-a-decade remapping of congressional and legislative districts after the 2010 U.S. Census.

...

Both parties are keenly aware that the six justices who will still be on the court next year are split 3-3 in terms of party affiliation.

(Hat tip: Election Law Blog)

This story highlights the difficulty in designing a redistricting commission that is truly non-partisan or bipartisan. It also is a good reminder that judicial elections tend to be about almost anything other than who is qualified to be a judge.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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