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Constitutional Amendment To Change The Way Voters Elect Statewide Judges Splits Some Republicans

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A proposed Constitutional amendment to change the way Pennsylvania elects state judges may be on the spring ballot if some Republican lawmakers get their way.

But the measure is controversial with not every Republican supporting the idea.

Right now every Pennsylvanian gets to vote for 31 appellate court judges statewide, including all seven state Supreme Court justices.

But Pennsylvania Rep. Russ Diamond, a Lebanon County Republican, wants to split the state into judicial districts so you vote for only one member of the state Supreme Court and the other appellate courts from your region.

"Anytime you have one segment of Pennsylvania's population overrepresented in any of the halls of government at the expense of the rest of Pennsylvania, you need to do something," Diamond told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

Saying too many state judges come from the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia, Diamond says state judges should be elected by regions, not statewide.

"We would divide the Commonwealth into seven districts for the Supreme Court, fifteen districts for the Superior Court and nine districts for the Commonwealth Court," he says.

But a local Republican representative, an attorney on the House Judiciary Committee, has already voted against the bill in Committee.

"We have three separate but co-equal branches of government, and I think that this amendment interferes with that," says Pennsylvania Rep. Natalie Mihalek, an Upper St. Clair Republican.

Mihalek says she strongly opposes Diamond's amendment because it "politicizes" statewide judges, making them beholden to litigants from their region, just like state representatives and senators.

"I answer to the residents of the 40th District. It shouldn't be like that for our judges on the appellate courts. They answer to the laws of the Commonwealth."

While Republicans control a majority of the state Superior Court and Commonwealth Court, Democrats recently won control of the state Supreme Court after years in Republican hands.

Mihalek worries that some Republicans think this is a way to retake the high court.

"I don't believe that this is the pathway for the GOP to increase its majority on the courts," she says. "I think it's bad policy and I do think it's bad politics because I think it would further politicize our courts."

Diamond says his idea was around long before the Democrats took control of the state Supreme Court.

"It's an age-old idea to solve an age-old issue," notes Diamond.

As for the lack of geographic diversity on the statewide courts, Mihalek says many judges come from the big cities because that's where most of the jobs for attorneys are.

She hopes enough Republicans will join her to defeat this Constitutional Amendment on the House floor. If it both passes the House and Senate, it will go on the ballot in the May primary for the voters to approve or reject.

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