Home » Pennsylvania Constitution in the News – 2008

Pennsylvania Constitution in the News – 2008

Various news outlets have reported on efforts by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to enforce the mandate of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 1987 suit by Allegheny County that held that the State must pay for all the costs of the courts of common pleas, rather than the mixed system that operates currently. In the years and litigation since that case was decided, the legislature has consistently refused to obey the order of the Court. In 1996, the Court issued a Writ of Mandamus to enforce its earlier decision. The Association filed a motion with the Court on 12/8/2008.

11/26/2008–The media are reporting today that a tentative agreement has been reached between the Port Authority and the union local 85.  Readers should check out last week’s prescient commentary on how the current legal context might disadvantage the union in considering a strike.

In a one line order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court that Commonwealth Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin could not give back the controversial pay raise upheld in Stilp v. Commonwealth.

A number of Pennsylvania media outlets reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would hear oral argument on 9/10/2008, concerning the constitutionality of Allegheny County’s base year property tax assessment system.

The media reported on 8/12/2008 that a federal lawsuit has been filed by former Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernest Preate  against the State Board of Pardons for failing to schedule hearings for life-sentenced inmates seeking commutation.  The suit alleges that such refusals violate the State Constitution (and presumably federal due process). http://www.timesleader.com/news/Preate_files_suit_for_those_serving_life_sentences_08-11-2008.html

Colin McNickle of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review published an article on 7/27/2008 criticizing Allegheny Council’s passage of a public referendum asking for a choice between keeping the drink tax or an increase in property taxes.  Among other criticisms, McNickle wrote that the referendum violated the single subject rule in the County Charter that is patterned after the State Constitution.  2008 WLNR 13997848.

Several stories in the media in early August reported on bills pending in the legislature that would authorize a 2009 statewide referendum on holding a State Constitutional Convention.  It is not as yet clear whether any such legislation will be passed.

Peter Hall reported in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly on 6/30/2008 concerning reaction to Governor Ed Rendell’s decision to work closely with the Republican leadership in the Senate to identify four persons for interim appointments to Pennsylvania’s appellate courts; the story examined the implications of the episode, if any, for future judicial appointments.  31 PLW 1.

It was reported in the media on June 23, 2008 that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an order amending the process for requesting and accessing financial records of the state court system.  The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts issued a news release declaring the revisions to be consistent with recent changes recently passed in the State Right to Know Law.

It was widely reported on 6/13/2008 that Governor Edward Rendell renewed his call for legislation changing Pennsylvania’s method of legislative reapportionment.  Such a change would require public approval of a State Constitutional amendment.

Anthony R. Wood and Dylan Purcell, “Assessments Confound Property Owners with Wildly Inequitable Taxes”, reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer on criticisms of property tax assessments in Philadelphia as lacking the uniformity required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

On Friday, June 27, The Associated Press reported that the State Senate Judiciary Committee had endorsed Governor Ed Rendell’s four judicial nominees for vacancies on the State appellate courts.  The nominees are: Philadelphia Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan, for the state Supreme Court, John Cleland of McKean County and Robert Freedberg of Northampton County, both county president judges, for Superior Court and Johnny Butler, who served as state labor secretary in former Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration, for the Commonwealth Court.  For further details, see http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2008/06/senate_oks_judicial_nominees.html

It was widely reported in the media on 5/20/2008 that the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters has sued former Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy in federal court in Harrisburg alleging that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the state’s slot machine gambling law in exchange for approval of a judicial pay raise.  The suit alleges that the League was denied due process of law as one of the litigants in the slots litigation because of the behind the scenes maneuvering.

The Pennsylvania Economy League has published a short article giving background to the debate over a possible Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.  The article can be accessed at http://www.issuespa.net/articles/22182/

Media reports today, 5/7/2009, indicate that S.B. 1250, the proposed State Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, has been tabled in the State Senate.  That might mean an end to its consideration during this legislative session.  There was also a report on KQV that a proposed constitutional amendment has been introduced that would increase terms in the General Assembly, but at the same time would introduce terms limits.

Jan Murphy reported in the Patriot-News, 4/19/2008, on the growing impasse that is endangering Governor Rendell’s four judicial nominations now pending in the State Senate.  (One of the nominees is Professor Ken Gormley for the Commonwealth Court).  The story also reports Chief Justice Ronald Castille’s announced support for the Governor’s choices.

The following item appeared in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly Headline News Update on January 16, 2008: “Duquesne University law professor Kenneth E. Gormley is among candidates on the short list for the appointment to an interim post on the state Supreme Court left open after former Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy’s resignation this month, a Senate majority leadership official said Wednesday.”