Duquesne Prof: PA Supreme Court All Talk, No Action on Vacancy Pick

Mar 26, 2013

One legal observer says the state Supreme Court is all talk, no action when it comes to making its own pick to replace the suspended justice who plans to resign in May.

The interim judge will fill the seat of suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who’s resigning in May as she awaits sentencing for campaign corruption.

The high court’s chief justice suggests his colleagues might make their own choice for a replacement, preempting an appointment by the governor to fill the vacancy.

But Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, says if they were going to appoint someone, they would have done so months ago.

"Now that there’s going to be an actual resignation and an actual vacancy, the state constitution is very clear that the governor has 90 days to nominate when the vacancy becomes official, and the Senate has a certain amount of time to confirm by two-thirds vote, and I’m sure that’s what will happen," Ledewitz said.

Gov. Tom Corbett has said he’ll nominate a replacement.

Ledewitz says the only qualification for the seat is that the person filling it must be a lawyer.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille says it would be nice if whoever is appointed to fill Melvin's seat has experience hearing appellate court cases, or is already a senior judge – a judge who is semi-retired but still fills in as needed for the courts.

"It’d be helpful," Castille said. "It’d be very helpful if the person is appointed with experience."

The seat will be vacant in May, when Melvin plans resign.

She is awaiting sentencing following her conviction on campaign corruption charges.

Ledewitz says the governor is expected to pick someone from his own party for the Supreme Court seat — but it won’t be anyone extreme because he’ll need bipartisan support.

"He won’t be able to appoint somebody who is controversial," Ledewitz said. "He won’t be able to appoint somebody who is going to run for the office in the special election of November 2015 because he needs Democratic Party votes. He needs a two-thirds vote."