GOP begins advancing new plans to remake Pennsylvania courts

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FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2020 file photo shown is a general view of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, home to the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania voters will pick four new members of the statewide appeals courts this fall, including the contest to fill a spot on the state Supreme Court open because a veteran justice will soon reach 75, the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republicans who control the state Legislature on Monday began advancing a new plan to remake Pennsylvania’s courts, the latest GOP strategy that could cut short the state Supreme Court’s Democratic majority.

The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines for two proposals to amend the state constitution, one to limit state Supreme Court justices to two terms and another to make the justices and judges at all levels run for re-election in partisan elections if they want to serve another term.

Democrats accused Republicans of trying to politicize the courts and protested that the committee had held no hearings on the proposals before passing them.

Currently, state Supreme Court justices and lower-court judges serve 10-year terms, without limit on the number, until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75.

They are elected in partisan elections to a first term, but run for subsequent terms in nonpartisan retention elections where they face no opponent, only an up-or-down vote on general election ballots.

Democrats have held a majority on the state Supreme Court since 2016 and, under the current rules, that majority might last well beyond 2030.

Republicans have complained bitterly about the court’s decisions, including in election-related cases last year, and other GOP-penned plans targeting the courts are pending in the Legislature.

Amendments to the state’s constitution must pass the Legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions before going to voters in a statewide referendum.

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