State Supreme Court
8:36 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Castille Says 7th Justice Key to Major Rulings in PA High Court

The state Supreme Court’s chief justice is emphasizing how much the high court needs a seventh member – and soon.  

Ron Castille says now that suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin plans to resign in May, the slot should be filled.

Gov. Tom Corbett says he plans to nominate someone for the seat.

But Castille says the court might be able to appoint an interim justice more quickly since it wouldn’t need the state Senate to confirm its selection with a two-thirds majority vote.  

The court has had only six active justices — three Democrats and three Republicans — since Melvin, a Republican, was suspended in August.

She was convicted last month.

Among the issues awaiting rulings are a state legislative redistricting plan, the right of municipalities to control natural-gas drilling and the constitutionality of a new photo ID requirement for Pennsylvania voters.

Castille says waiting for the seat to be filled by an election would mean it would remain vacant until January 2016.

He adds he doesn’t think the court can function as a six-member bench for that long, without any seventh member to break three-to-three ties on case decisions.

"No one gets any guidance from a three-three," Castille said. "It’s as simple as that."

Corbett said Monday that Melvin made the "correct" decision to resign effective May 1, sparing taxpayers the expense of impeachment proceedings and allowing lawmakers to focus on other issues.