As one nominee bows out, both PA Supreme Court picks could be scuttled

    The withdrawal of one nominee to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court might have sunken both picks made by the state Senate working with the governor’s office, potentially leaving two vacancies on the high court for the rest of the year.

    Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler said Monday he was dropping out of the confirmation process, citing vague concerns closer to home.

    “[S]everal circumstances have developed here, at home, in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system, and require my full attention,” said Kistler in a written statement. “I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty.”

    His withdrawal comes days after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported criticism of a 2013 e-mail he sent.

    The e-mail features a photo of a black man and woman, apparently during a prison visit, below text that reads: “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.” Kistler is white.

    Senate GOP leaders have no confirmation hearings scheduled for Kistler, a Republican. Nor has a hearing been scheduled for the Democratic nominee, Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne School of Law.

    “It’s unclear at this point. We haven’t made any decisions,” said Senate GOP spokeswoman Jenn Kocher. She said Senate Republican leaders were reluctant to fill just one of two vacancies on the Supreme Court, leaving the bench with six justices, and a greater “risk of some sort of gridlock on a case.”

    Kistler and Gormley both were selected by Senate leaders in a bipartisan, package deal.

    Gormley said he remains optimistic his confirmation can proceed, though he acknowledged that Kistler’s withdrawal could intercept his shot at a seat on the high court.

    “[I]t has been made clear to me from the start that a package of one Democrat and one Republican nominee is necessary in order for the appointments to go forward,” said Gormley in a written statement Monday. “And I understand the fairness of that approach.

    Gov. Tom Wolf said in a written statement that he would make no further nominations. If Gormley is not confirmed, the seven-seat court could finish the rest of the year with five justices.

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