This post appeared in the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s Fall News & Views Newsletter
Pennsylvania is one of a dwindling number of states where citizens actually have the right to vote on the election of trial court judges and appellate court judges who interpret and apply our laws. Sadly, judicial elections lack the media attention, funding and attraction of Presidential elections, U.S. Senate elections and Gubernatorial elections in the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week news cycle.
Union members have an opportunity to have a real and meaningful voice in this year’s upcoming judicial elections where a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 2 vacancies on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 4 vacancies on the Pennsylvania Superior Court and a host of County Common Pleas and local District Magistrate judicial elections are at stake. Low voter turnout is anticipated and that makes the voice of workers on election day all the more significant to the outcome of this year’s judicial stakes.
The results of these judicial elections literally control the fate of working men and women and their families in Pennsylvania. Consider a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. In that case, a majority of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Justices overturned 21 years of law that had stripped workers, who became totally disabled due to a work related accident, injury or disease, of their right to workers’ compensation benefits as long as they remained disabled. It was the culmination of a battle for workers’ rights in the face of a law passed by an anti-worker General Assembly and signed into law by then Governor Tom Ridge, that basically was aimed at terminating workers’ compensation eligibility for every injured worker in Pennsylvania.
More recently in William Penn School District v. Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court required a lower court to hear a case challenging the failure of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education for the children of Pennsylvania’s working men and women. The moving party, in that case, had tried to lock the keys to the courthouse door but an enlightened judiciary offered an emphatic, “No!” to that effort.
Our courts determine and protect our rights and our Constitution. Our judges decide an overwhelming range of issues from our right to form and join Unions to our eligibility for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation; our children’s access to a quality education to our right to live in our homes; the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink and even our right to vote . . . the effect that judicial officers have on every aspect of our lives simply cannot be overstated.
Irwin Aronson is the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s General Counsel and a partner at the law firm of Willig, Williams, and Davidson.