HARRISBURG – Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) has introduced legislation aimed at empowering voters and ensuring greater accountability among the state’s jurists.
House Bill 1898
proposes to amend the state Constitution to provide consistency in the terms of office for Pennsylvania judges by establishing a uniform six-year term for all levels of jurists. Currently, magisterial district judges and other minor court judges are elected to six-year terms, while judges in the courts of common pleas, Commonwealth and Superior courts and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court serve terms of 10 years.
“Giving our citizens the option and opportunity to vote more often for the men and women charged with interpreting the laws of this Commonwealth is a positive step toward ensuring accountability,” Owlett said. “If my proposal passes, voters will have the opportunity to decide if they agree or if they would prefer to keep the status quo.”
Because Owlett’s measure requires an amendment to the Constitution, the measure will have to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be put before the voters in a referendum. Only if it earns approval of the voters could the amendment take effect.
Owlett noted that among the 20 most populous states where judges and justices are elected to office, only six (California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Louisiana) provide for judicial tenure of 10 or more years. The overwhelming majority of these states provide for judicial tenures between six and eight years. This includes the neighboring state of Ohio, which elects jurists to a six-year term.
Owlett’s bill is one of several judicial reform measures being proposed in the state House. Other bills in the package seek to develop a rational policy for judicial salaries and compensation; limit the rulemaking authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; expand the Judicial Conduct Board and Court of Judicial Discipline; and eliminate retention elections, instead requiring judges to stand for reelection. Each of these measures also would require amendment of the state Constitution.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler