Time is ticking for the state Supreme Court to let a lower panel decide whether voters should be asked to decipher a misleading question on the Nov. 8 ballot that seeks to raise the retirement age for Pennsylvania judges.
The Supreme Court deadlocked earlier this month when it tried to decide whether the wording is proper. Since it was unable to reach a decision on the ballot question, which seeks to amend the state Constitution, it should let the matter be decided by the Commonwealth Court.
Each passing day makes it more and more difficult for the plaintiffs - and voters - to have their day in court. Further delay also makes it difficult to give the counties enough time to change the wording on the ballot - if the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, as they should.
By sitting on a request to have the lower court hear the case, the Supreme Court can effectively run out the clock. That way none of the justices can be held accountable for playing a role in the apparent chicanery that threatens to mislead voters about the ballot measure.
At issue is some slick wordsmithing, including editing out key details in the original wording of the ballot question.
Initially, the ballot question said: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that [judges] be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years, instead of the current requirement that they be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 70?
That was the proper wording since it made clear to voters that they would be deciding whether or not they are in favor of raising the retirement age.
But then the Republican-controlled legislature decided to change the wording to read: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges, and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75?
The problem with the revised wording is that it may cause some to think they are voting to set an initial retirement age for judges when in fact they are deciding whether to raise the current retirement age.
The push by the Republican-controlled legislature to increase the judicial retirement age would directly benefit Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican who turns 70 in December and would be forced to retire if the ballot measure is defeated. To his credit, Saylor recused himself from voting on the ballot question issue, which resulted in the Supreme Court's 3-3 deadlock.
Of course, the very idea that the justices are deciding the wording of a measure that directly impacts their careers is troubling. All the more reason why the issue deserves a full hearing in the lower court.