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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 24, 2017 02:12 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Amending constitution on retention elections
I will be reintroducing Senate Bill 523 of last session, proposing an amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution to require retention elections for magisterial district judges. Instead of running for re-election in a partisan race, a magisterial district judge, whose term is about to expire, would be listed on the ballot to determine only the question of whether the judge should be retained in office. Magisterial district judges would continue to serve six-year terms.

The State constitution currently requires retention elections for the other justices and judges in the Unified Judicial System. Magisterial district judges are an integral part of the judiciary. In order to maintain the independence and integrity of the office, I believe that it is important, after the magisterial district judge’s initial election, that the judge not be involved in partisan party politics. By requiring a magisterial district judge to face a retention election, the voters will have a chance to decide on whether the judge has handled the job appropriately without requiring a partisan election.

Forcing incumbent magisterial district judges to run in partisan elections also presents a practical problem. As members of the judiciary, magisterial district judges may not participate in political activities except in the year of their candidacy. As a result, they may not attend political functions during the years leading up to the year in which they run for re-election. Meanwhile, potential opponents may participate in political activities and line up endorsements. This puts the incumbent magisterial district judge at a disadvantage.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, this legislation must pass each house of the General Assembly in two separate sessions and then must be presented to the voters for adoption.

It should be noted that the State constitution still refers to magisterial district judges as “justices of the peace.” For many years the title “district justice” was used instead of “justice of the peace.” However, 2004 Act 207 changed all statutory references from “district justice” to “magisterial district judge.”

The Special Court Judges' Association of Pennsylvania supports this legislation.

Introduced as SB856