HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The abrupt retirement of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice caught up in a government pornographic email scandal is likely to leave the high court without a tie-breaking vote for the rest of the year as the panel is set to undergo significant change.
In next year’s election, there will be three open seats up for grabs on the seven-member panel, while there are two temporarily openings to fill before then.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said Monday night that it is inappropriate to rush through the nomination and confirmation of a temporary replacement for the now-retired justice, Seamus P. McCaffery, a Democrat.
Instead, Costa, D-Allegheny, said he prefers to wait until next year and let the governor nominate a slate of two nominees to replace both McCaffery and Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, a Republican.
Castille must retire at the end of this year because he has reached the constitution’s mandatory retirement age of 70.
All told, three seats on the court will be open in next year’s general election since one justice, Correale Stevens, is a temporary replacement for Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted of corruption last year.
McCaffery’s retirement came a week after four of his fellow justices suspended him amid the pornographic email scandal. On Oct. 15, Castille disclosed that the attorney general’s office provided him with copies of 234 emails McCaffery had sent or received with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012. Two days later, a fellow justice, J. Michael Eakin, accused McCaffery of trying to coerce him into taking his side against Castille in the scandal.
A spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett could not say Monday night whether the Republican governor would nominate a replacement for McCaffery. A Senate confirmation vote of a two-thirds majority is necessary to approve a nominee to the court, meaning that minority Democrats in the GOP-controlled chamber can block any nominee.
The decision will involve politics. Corbett has trailed badly in independent polls to Democrat Tom Wolf, and the winner of the Nov. 4 election could be in a position to exert short-term influence over the court. Pennsylvania’s next governor, either Wolf or Corbett, will be sworn in Jan. 20. The Senate session ends Nov. 30, and a new Senate will convene in January.
The temporary appointments aside, a stampede of candidates for the high court is expected to run in next November’s general election. Judges are barred by ethics rules from saying until after the Nov. 4 election whether they will run, but Stevens and Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus have said they are considering running.
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