HARRISBURG - A federal judge has dismissed a hard-fought lawsuit that sought to declare unconstitutional a November ballot question asking voters whether they approved of raising the retirement age for Pennsylvania judges by five years.
In the suit, two former state Supreme Court chief justices and a prominent Philadelphia lawyer argued that the question's wording was changed at the eleventh hour by the Republican-controlled legislature to hoodwink voters into approving it.
U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani dismissed the challenge Friday by former Supreme Court Justices Ronald D. Castille and Stephen Zappala Sr., lawyer Richard A. Sprague, and others.
Mariani said Pennsylvania voters were given ample notice by state officials of what the question was seeking to change. If voters still were confused, they had access to other materials that further explained the measure's intent, Mariani wrote.
Asking the court to decide whether the question could have been worded better would be tantamount to turning the judiciary into a "super-legislature" of sorts, Mariani wrote.
The decision followed months of wrangling in state courts, with the state Supreme Court deadlocking on the matter.
"We are disappointed in the decision because as of now, neither the state nor federal courts have permitted us to have a hearing concerning the misleading nature of the ballot question," Sprague said in a statement, adding that he was considering an appeal.
Jordann R. Conaboy, an attorney with Sprague & Sprague who represented the plaintiffs, said the firm was contacted by several voters after the election who said they were deceived by the question.
The original question asked voters whether the retirement age for Pennsylvania judges should be raised from 70 to 75. It was initially to be decided on April's primary ballot.
But weeks before the primary - and after many ballots had been printed - top GOP legislators pushed to change the language of the question and delay the vote until the Nov. 8 election.
Nonetheless, more than two million primary voters cast ballots on the measure, narrowly defeating it. That result was declared moot.
The new wording pushed by the GOP asked voters only if they believed judges should retire when they turn 75. It left out the fact that judges had been required to retire when they turned 70.
The plaintiffs argued that voters would be misled into believing they were imposing a retirement age for the first time, rather than raising it.
The question was narrowly approved Nov. 8.