Pa. Senate waits for signal on Supreme Court vacancy

    Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has one vacancy now, with another one to materialize at the end of the year. The state Senate, which confirms interim judicial nominees, is waiting for a signal from Gov. Tom Corbett on whether he’ll try to fill the first right away, or wait to fill both at once.


    The governor’s office has given no indication he wants to nominate someone to fill an empty slot on the state’s high court anytime soon. The seat was vacated by Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, whose retirement this week ended an investigation into a slew of allegations against him.

    If the governor waits until next year to think about judicial nominations, there will be two Supreme Court seats to fill  — Chief Justice Ron Castille, a Republican, has hit the mandatory retirement age of 70 and will have to step down in January.

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    Drew Crompton, chief counsel and spokesman for the Senate’s top Republican, said filling two seats at once, one from each party, better lends itself to deal-making.

    “Especially in this case,” said Crompton. “It does create the scenario, assuming there’s two people that are nominated, would fill nicely in that paradigm. So I think two is easier than one.”

    On that, he is in agreement with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, who said any confirmation process before January would be rushed.

    “Even if a justice were selected today, and we confirmed that person on Nov. 12,” Costa said, referring to the Senate’s only scheduled session day, “to me it doesn’t leave enough time to do the appropriate vetting.”

    Costa said preventing a hamstrung Supreme Court – now with six members instead of seven – shouldn’t be among the governor’s concerns for selecting McCaffery’s replacement.

    “At the end of the day, that justice would not be able to participate in any of the previous arguments that have taken place,” Costa said. “So it’s almost as if you’re just putting them on the court, but they’ll have no impact on decisions that’ll be made between now and end of the year.”

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