PA GOP Releases Statement On Justice Baer’s Comments

HARRISBURG — Republican Party of Pennsylvania Executive Director Mike Barley released the following statement regarding Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer’s violation of the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct and the Pennsylvania Constitution when he made comments to the press regarding a ongoing court proceeding.

“While the rest of Pennsylvania anxiously awaits the Court’s opinion on redistricting, Justice Baer decided to provide his own commentary on the matter, violating both Judicial Canon and the Pennsylvania Constitution in the process. The fact that a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge would make politically-motivated comments to the press on a pending court proceeding is absolutely outrageous, especially since the court’s official opinion on the matter has not yet been released. Justice Baer’s comments are more than just an abdication of his judicial responsibilities; they are in direct contravention of both the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct and the Pennsylvania Constitution. Justice Bear should be reprimanded for his poor judgment and recuse himself from any judicial activity related to this matter.”

Justice Baer Violates Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct and the Pennsylvania Constitution

Canon 3 (A)(6) provides:

“Judges should abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in any court, and should require similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to their direction and control. This subsection does not prohibit judges from making public statements in the course of their official duties or from explaining for public information the procedures of the court.”

(Code of Conduct For Employees of the Unified Judicial System. Accessed 1/26/2012)

Article V, § 17. Prohibited activities

(b) Justices and judges shall not engage in any activity prohibited by law and shall not violate any canon of legal or judicial ethics prescribed by the Supreme Court. Justices of the peace shall be governed by rules or canons which shall be prescribed by the Supreme Court.

(Pennsylvania Constitution. Accessed 1/26/2012)

BREAKING NEWS – Capitolwire: Justice Baer says 2012 elections likely to be based on 2001 legislative maps. UPDATED with Pileggi reaction.

HARRISBURG (Jan. 26) — Supreme Court Justice Max Baer said issuing an opinion regarding the Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s plan “will take a week or so” and that the court majority believes the process of fixing the legislative maps will take time.

“I think this year’s election are going to go on the 2001 lines,” Baer said in an interview with Capitolwire. “I think that is what the majority intended and I think that is what a reading of the chief justice’s order said.”

Baer said: “It takes a week or so to write a majority opinion on any big case, and it will take a week or so here.”

But the day after the court stunned the political world by telling the legislative leaders and the court-picked chairman, former Judge Stephen McEwen, their map was unconstitutional, Baer said he and his colleagues were surprised by the amount and furor of the reaction.

“I did not expect this maelstrom,” he said. “I don’t think any of us did. But in 40 years since the constitution established this procedure, this is the first the court has voted to not rubberstamp the commission’s work. And, you know, the constitution was not set up to rubberstamp things.”

That meant, he said, that the trip of himself and Chief Justice Ron Castille to Puerto Rico for a conference of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, was not keeping any candidates in suspense: they should expect to run based on the 2001 redistricting lines. And Baer said the trip would not add any time beyond the usual week “to write a majority opinion. That is just what it takes.”

But Baer’s decision to discuss the case while the commission members were still awaiting the specific opinion upset Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.

“I think it’s outrageous that instead of issuing an opinion, to provide guidance to over 12 million Pennsylvanians as to who their representatives and state senators will be in the 2012 election cycle, we are reading press comments from a single Supreme Court justice in a resort in Puerto Rico.

“I look forward to reading the court’s opinions and working with the commission to respond in time for the 2012 election cycle. On a matter as important as drawing legislative districts, I think the court should explain itself in formal opinions rather than in conversations with newspaper reporters.”

Lisa Scullin, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, responded: “We are obviously pleased to hear this, but we are not going to speculate further until we read the Court’s opinion.”

Baer, Chief Justice Ron Castille, and Baer’s fellow Democratic Justices Seamus McCaffery and Debra Todd voted to send the map back for corrections to make it constitutional. The court’s remaining three justices, Republicans Thomas Saylor, Mike Eakin and Joan Orie Melvin, voted the current map was constitutional. But even they backed Saylor’s written submission that said while this map was constitutional, the court could have given guidance to resolve issues in redistricting practices before the next legislative reapportionment in 2021.

Baer also noted that most of the justices thought the reapportionment system needed to be changed, noting that the three judges who voted the plan was constitutional “wanted to give prospective guidance. So everyone agreed there needed to be changes. The majority just felt they were needed now, and that justified sending it back to the commission.”

Baer confirmed the opinion would cite “the splitting of too many counties, cities, wards and districts” as unconstitutional. “The constitution says they are not to be split unless absolutely necessary and we are affirming that. And defining it. The majority opinion will have specific instructions as how we read the constitution’s provisions about compactness, about population deviation and splits of districts. The opinion will change how they balance the factors.

“I don’t think the commission could sit down, re-look at this after we give them guidance, and do it in a week or so,” he said. “If they can do it in time to have the elections on these lines this year, that is fine, we are open to that. But I don’t see how they can do that.”

In addition to whatever turn-around time the commission would have, the courts would have to then allow time for appeals to be filed, then hear the appeals, Baer said.

“The chief justice’s order was to provide the information to the political establishment that these elections are likely to go on the 2001 lines. We are going to do this quickly, but we felt it was not likely it could be quick enough, and we wanted people to know what the rules were, so they would know what they are filing for. But we have no agenda about whether it gets done and which lines will be in place. But while it goes forward, until we have a new plan that the court approves, we wanted people to know what the lines were, what the rules were.

“When the commission files its plan, and we go through the appeals and hearing process on the new lines, then we will figure out if they apply for the 2013 or 2014 elections or when they would apply.”

While Baer declined to comment, another source familiar with the decision said it was unlikely to prevent the future plan from moving seats from west to east, or moving Democrats only from the west to other places, as the House and Senate plans did.

(BREAKING NEWS – Capitolwire: Justice Baer says 2012 elections likely to be based on 2001 legislative maps. UPDATED with Pileggi reaction. 1/26/2012)