By Cherri Gregg
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be in session next week, hearing several controversial cases including an appeal of the new voter ID law.
But, with only six justices on the bench, there’s a chance for a procedural snafu.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordinarily has seven justices, but Justice Joan Orie Melvin was suspended in May (see related story), leaving six judges sitting — three Republicans and three Democrats — and the looming possibility of a tie.
“Appellate courts are designed to have an uneven number of judges to avoid ties whenever possible,” notes University of Pennsylvania law professor Lou Rulli. He says if there is a 3-3 decision, the lower court ruling will stand.
Rulli says that although a tie is not uncommon, justices do not always follow party lines.
“We must be careful about speculating,” he says. “I think the public has a right to expect that each individual justice will look at the law carefully and decide the case on the merits and not on the basis of party affiliation.”
One example is Republican chief justice Ronald Castille, who voted in earlier this year to strike down a redistricting map backed by his party.