Abrupt Rule Change – Temporary Judicial Assignments to the PA Supreme Court – Has The Court Been Afflicted By COVID?

It is with a heavy heart that I write this article. Unbeknownst to me, on Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court abruptly issued an Order promulgating a change to Section 701 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Judicial Administration. This change adds section (c)(7) to the Rule providing for “Temporary Judicial Assignments to the Supreme Court. Requests for temporary judicial assistance to the Supreme Court shall be governed by Section 13 of the Supreme Court’s Internal Operating Procedures, as amended from time to time.”

Simultaneously, the Court issued an Order promulgating Internal Operating Procedure Section 13.

§ 13. Temporary Judicial Assignments to the Supreme Court

(A) Where a quorum of the Court cannot be assembled to transact the business of the Court, or where extraordinary circumstances warrant appointment of additional Justices, the Chief Justice or senior participating Justice may request temporary judicial assignment(s) to the Court as set forth below.

(B) A request for one or more temporary judicial assignments shall be made in accordance with the affirmative vote of a majority of the Justices voting on that question.

(C) The Court Administrator will select the requested number of temporary judges by random drawing from a pool of all commissioned judges of the Superior Court, or the Commonwealth Court, or both, excluding any judges who previously participated in the matter(s) to be considered by the Court. In the event a judge so selected is unable to serve, the Court Administrator shall select another temporary judge from the pool by random drawing. The Court Administrator will submit the selected names to the Chief Justice or senior participating Justice for appointment to the Court.

(D) This Section supplants Rule of Judicial Administration 701(C)(1) and (2) relative to temporary judicial assignments to the Supreme Court. The balance of the Rules of
Judicial Administration continue to pertain, to the extent otherwise applicable.

IOP Section 13, while a steward of checks and balances for anything that may occur, also, being abruptly promulgated at this time, seems both bleak and dire. I have previously expressed my concern for Justice David Wecht and his family, when it was reported that his son was afflicted with COVID. And even while his family dealt with what I can only imagine to be overwhelming fear, he found it within himself to write a dissenting opinion to the Court’s refusal to grant King’s Bench Jurisdiction in Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., et al., v. Governor Wolf. That takes a special type of man – one deserving to sit on our Commonwealth’s highest court. But I digress.

While we have not heard anything suggesting that other Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (or their families) have been afflicted by COVID, based on the issuance of these Orders approving these new rules/procedures, I fear that some of the Justices have been afflicted by COVID and that there is grave concern on part of the Court as to their prognosis. Hopefully, I am wrong and this is merely a beautifully crafted, preventive measure, enacted during an inopportune time.

Regardless, as we pray for the safety and well-being of our families, friends and other loved ones, let us also pray for the Justices of the PA Supreme Court and their families, as they are the last remaining bulwark between our inviolate rights, as specified in the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the death of our Republic.

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