The Aument amendment, adding provisions for regional judicial elections, was voted into Senate Bill 22 on June 12, largely along a party line vote (35-14). This was just minutes after a nearly unanimous vote (48-1) on the carefully negotiated omnibus amendment to strengthen the bill. Whatever the merits of the idea of judicial regions, we object strongly to its last-minute and unvetted inclusion as an amendment to SB 22.
The Aument amendment has no place in SB 22 for the following reasons:
SB 22 deals with a distinct and severe problem - Pennsylvania has some of the most gerrymandered legislative districts in the entire country. The question of judicial districts is a separate issue.
SB 22 was introduced over 18 months ago and has received intense public scrutiny in town halls, print and broadcast media, and two separate lengthy senate hearings featuring expert testimony from multiple perspectives. The Aument amendment popped up a few weeks ago and its proponents invited no public examination whatsoever. It has been seven years since the issue of judicial districts was debated in Harrisburg.
SB 22 has earned the support of tens of thousands of citizens from across the commonwealth and across the political spectrum. In fact, 70 percent of Pennsylvanians favor creating an independent citizens redistricting commission in order to prevent the partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts in our state. The Aument amendment doesn’t come anywhere close to having such widespread support.
SB 22 was negotiated in good faith by a range of stakeholders including legislators on both sides of the aisle, good government advocacy organizations, and constituents. Supporters of the Aument amendment foisted it upon their colleagues as a fait accompli in the 11th hour. They now pay lip-service to the idea of public consideration by saying “citizens will have plenty of time to analyze the judicial redistricting issue before they vote on it.” But this misses the point entirely: after July 6, 2018, whatever concerns voters have about the Aument amendment - whatever improvements they want to make - will be impossible to incorporate.
Whereas a legislative redistricting reform bill must be passed by July 6, 2018 in order to meet the requirements for passing a constitutional amendment before the next round of legislative redistricting, the question of judicial redistricting is not bound to the same timeline. It is a complex issue and the Legislature has a responsibility to hear and weigh testimony from experts, consider how such districts impact the small handful of states where they are in use, and allow time for legislators to assess the pros and cons for their own constituents and the state as a whole.
Our focus is and always has been on legislative redistricting reform - not on the pros and cons of judicial regions or on the rationales for or against judicial elections. We urge our legislators to pass a clean, strong redistricting reform bill without delay.