PA Supreme Court: Speaker must approve special elections

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this afternoon ordered state House Speaker Sam Smith to schedule special elections for six vacant House seats, including three in Philadelphia, on April 24, the same day as the primary election.  The court's 4-to-3 ruling comes in response to a petition filed Feb. 17 by local attorney Kevin Greenberg, who was representing 11 voters from those House districts.

The election calendar was thrown into flux last month when the Supreme Court tossed out the reapportionment plan approved in December by the General Assembly. The lines for state House and Senate districts are redrawn every 10 years based on the latest census information.  The state Legislative Reapportionment Commission has not produced a new version of the plan.  Smith had wanted to wait until the new plan was approved before setting special elections.

"A new reapportionment plan, once final, takes effect at the next ensuing primary and general election; it does not operate retroactively to remake the districts of the House members for the remainders of their terms; it simply does not disrupt existing terms," the court ruled.

Three of the House seats representing Philadelphia are vacant because of resignations. Jewell Williams [197th District in North Philly] became Philadelphia's sheriff. Kenyatta Johnson [186th District in South Philly] and Denny O'Brien [169th District in Northeast Philly] resigned to take seats on City Council.

The original reapportionment plan moved the 169th seat to York County but it came back to the city when the Supreme Court's action effectively reset the district lines to where they were drawn in 2001.