AMENDING THE STATE CONSTITUTION WOULD GERRYMANDER JUDICIAL DISTRICTS

HOUSE BILL NO. 196

To my valued constituents,

          I am writing concerning House Bill No. 196, the proposal to amend the state constitution to change our process of electing judges to the Commonwealth, Superior, and Supreme courts of Pennsylvania. Right now, our constitution provides for these judges to be chosen in statewide elections where all voters in the state get to hold judges accountable. The authors of House Bill No. 196 seek to change this to a district-based system wherein judicial elections would be divided into districts. The proponents of this bill argue it would increase the diversity of our judicial system by ensuring representation for the less populous areas of the state.

          I support having a diverse array of interests and identities represented on the bench. However, it is clear to me this is not the way to accomplish that goal; in fact, this bill poses a grave threat to the independence of our judiciary. The process of drawing these districts as proposed in this bill is fundamentally political and arbitrary, as it would fall entirely on the General Assembly. I have little doubt that diversity will not be the primary concern of the majority party when drawing these districts. Instead, the districts will be politicized and gerrymandered to maximize the influence of whichever party happens to control the General Assembly at the time.

Further, there is no guarantee that the creation of these districts will increase the diversity of the bench at all. If this amendment becomes law, it is clear to me that it will immediately become another tool for politicians to destroy the independence of the judiciary and secure the continued power of their own party by reducing the influence of voters who oppose them. And it is no coincidence that sponsors of this bill are members of the party that currently controls the General Assembly.

Our system may not be perfect, but this amendment is not the solution. If Republicans want to increase the diversity of our judges, they should propose a system that actually accomplishes this goal, such as a merit-based selection system. Instead, they have proposed a power grab under the thin guise of increasing the diversity of geographical representation, which this amendment isn’t even guaranteed to do if it passes.

I am proud to join my fellow representatives in opposing House Bill No. 196, and I thank our citizens of the 156th for your overall civic engagement in critical issues like this one.

Representative Dianne Herrin

156th Legislative District