Seventh justice needed to resolve Pa. Supreme Court split

    Gov. Tom Corbett has indicated he’ll nominate someone to fill the seat of suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

    But there is another way to fill the vacancy after Orie Melvin resigns in May in the wake of conviction on campaign corruption charges.


    It’s been a six-justice bench for nearly a year since her suspension with no one to break three-three ties on court decisions. Chief Justice Ron Castille says he doesn’t think the state’s high court can continue functioning that way until the seat can be filled by an election. That would leave the post vacant until January 2016.

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    Corbett, who has until August to nominate a replacement, would have to send his choice to the state Senate for confirmation.

    The Supreme Court, however, could pick a replacement — with no confirmation vote needed.

    Earlier this month, one Supreme Court judge said that option wasn’t desirable. Castille said Monday that’s just one opinion.

    “The justice may have been speaking for himself but there’s five other — the rest of us,” Castille said.His opinion, he added, is “we’re going to try and get a seventh justice.”

    Even if it means beating the governor to the punch.

    But Castille may be no faster than the governor. He needs a majority vote on the high court to approve an appointment, and there’s no tiebreaker.

    Castille wouldn’t say if he’s spoken with the governor about what route to take – filling Orie Melvin’s seat by court appointment or governor’s appointment.

    “Speed is important and the governor could do it fairly quickly. I guess it would have to be the Senate would be – might be the hold up,” he said. “They’re focused on the budget at this time of the year mostly.”


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