Orie Melvin replacement may not emerge quickly

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Gov. Tom Corbett doesn't appear to be in any rush to fill the vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, even though former Justice Joan Orie Melvin has now been sentenced to house arrest for political corruption.

While one state senator said it would be "odd" if the governor dragged his feet, another source said there is possibility that Mr. Corbett may not make any nomination to fill the vacancy because the governor is focusing on other pressing issues such as the budget, the possible expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, and the privatization of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

One source familiar with the Corbett administration said, "I can tell you with relative certainty there's minimal chance anything will happen before the budget. I don't think it's possible."

The state budget is supposed to be passed into law by June 30.

Mr. Corbett has 90 days starting from Orie Melvin's resignation, which became official two weeks ago, to submit a nominee for confirmation by two-thirds of the state Senate.

A nominee would serve until Jan. 5, 2016, and a new justice would be elected in November 2015.

"Gov. Corbett is carefully considering who would be the most qualified person for the highest court in our commonwealth," said Janet Kelley, deputy director of communications for the governor.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, minority chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it would be "odd" if Mr. Corbett made no nomination at all, but that the Senate Democrats have not yet heard from the governor on any candidates.

Republicans control the upper house but do not have enough party members to muster two-thirds on their own. The Senate Democratic leadership has said a more moderate nominee from Mr. Corbett is necessary to garner their party support.

If Mr. Corbett does not make a nomination, it remains an open question if the Supreme Court would do so on its own.

Members of the Supreme Court have differed on whether the court would appoint an interim justice.

Justice J. Michael Eakin has commented that while he thinks the high court has the power to appoint an interim justice, he does not think the court will do it out of respect for the separation of powers between the branches of government.

In contrast, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has said the court would consider appointing a senior judge.

Mr. Leach sent Mr. Corbett a list of names of Republican judges that he developed after canvassing people on judges they would feel comfortable arguing cases in front of.

The judges are: Superior Court Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen, Superior Court President Judge Correale F. Stevens, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Kathrynann Durham, Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Branca and Lackawanna County Common Pleas Judge Carmen Minora.

Because the judges have already gained the support of party officials and voters, they have "instant credibility," Mr. Leach said.

Judge Stevens said that he is "very humbled and appreciative of [Leach's] kind words."

Separately, Judge Stevens said there's an unfair perception that the court is tied evenly between three Republicans and three Democrats.

The judge said he has served on the Superior Court with Justices Thomas G. Saylor, Eakin, Debra Todd and Seamus P. McCaffery, and that he knows Justice Castille and Justice Max Baer well -- and that in the 15 years he has been on the Superior Court he has never heard "a judge say this is a Republican issue or this is a Democratic issue. If there are any 3-3 decisions on the court, to me, it was based on philosophy."

Some other Republican names being floated as potential justices are not certain candidates but are out there because of their close association with the Corbett administration.

Some of the names include Michael Krancer, former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection; Stephen Aichele, Mr. Corbett's chief of staff; and William R. Sasso, chairman of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young's management committee.

Mr. Krancer, who ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court in 2007, said it is an honor to be a name mentioned as a possible nominee.

If Mr. Corbett asked him to consider being nominated, Mr. Krancer said he would respond affirmatively.

"When a chief executive asks you to do something, it's something that is incumbent upon you as a duty to do," he said.

There are many important issues being considered by the Supreme Court, Mr. Krancer said, such as the state's voter identification law and Act 13 issues on whether the state can pre-empt local ordinances regarding natural-gas drilling.

Mr. Aichele declined comment.

Mr. Sasso previously has indicated that he thinks there are many others who would benefit the court more.

And another political observer said that because the Supreme Court slot was held by a woman, Mr. Corbett might be inclined to nominate a woman as an interim justice, especially to avoid negative political play with female voters in his re-election cycle.


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