Corbett to nominate interim justice
HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday he will nominate an interim justice to fill the pivotal seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that will be vacated on May 1 by convicted Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
The governor has 90 days from her resignation date to make a nomination, which then needs a two-thirds confirmation vote in the Senate.
"I will submit a nominee to the Senate as soon as practical within that time frame to bring our Supreme Court back to its full complement of seven justices," Corbett said.
A nominee will need bipartisan support in a chamber controlled 27-23 by Republicans, with Democrats in the minority. An interim justice would serve until January 2016, when a successor elected in 2015 would take office.
Melvin made a correct decision to resign in the wake of a conviction for using taxpayer money for campaign purposes, avoiding the time and expense of an impeachment process in the Legislature, Corbett said.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said the court vacancy needs to be filled quickly, either by an interim justice nominated by the governor or senior justice selected by the justices.
Having a six-member court continue with a prospect of a 3-3 tie on major cases is unworkable even in the short run, Chief Justice Castille told the Pennsylvania Press Club.
"If you don't have a majority, it is a lot of work for nothing," he said.
The court is handling important cases, involving a legislative reapportionment plan for 2014 and local government zoning jurisdiction under the natural gas drilling impact fee law.
Chief Justice Castille said the court has the option of holding off on a decision on those cases until a seventh member is seated, but justices have not taken that step and are actively considering the cases.
"We are not holding anything at the present," he said.
Still, Chief Justice Castille said the court is trying to avoid tie votes, since they don't set any precedent or provide guidance to attorneys.
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