PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the legislation passed last summer giving raises to hundreds of officials -- repealed last month after a public outcry -- was constitutional.
In a ruling last Thursday, the court said it would hear a constitutional challenge by a political activist that a lower court had dismissed as moot after the repeal. It also was hearing a second case that was filed by a judge seeking to reinstate higher judicial salaries. The ruling came to light when the attorney general's office announced it Tuesday.
The court said it would review the propriety of how the General Assembly passed the law giving pay raises to officials in all three branches of state government.
The law, passed in the dead of night July 7 without debate or public hearings, boosted the salaries of more than 1,300 judges, lawmakers and senior executive branch officials. Judges saw their pay increase by 11 percent to 15 percent, while lawmakers received raises of 16 percent to 54 percent.
But public criticism and legislators' fears about their re-election prospects next year prompted a repeal.
The high court said it would consider activist Gene Stilp's lawsuit along with a Commonwealth Court case filed by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John W. Herron, who wants to revive the judicial pay raise only.
Stilp's suit argued the law ran afoul of rules in the state constitution requiring, among other things, that bills pertain to a single subject and be considered on three separate days before they become law. He was also challenging they way legislators got around a rule that would have delayed the raises for more than a year.
Stilp's phone was not accepting messages Tuesday. Russ Diamond, head of PACleanSweep, a group that fought the pay raise and is working to unseat incumbents, said he was encouraged by the court's decision.
"I think the state Supreme Court is the proper place to hear this case and to hash out these issues once and for all," Diamond said.
The justices also will decide Herron's argument: that the pay-raise repeal for judges violated the state constitution's requirement that judges' pay not be diminished "during their terms of office, unless by law applying generally to all salaried officers' of the Commonwealth."
A central issue will be what the state constitution's framers had in mind when they insulated judges against certain pay cuts, said Robert C. Heim, Herron's attorney.