- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Two retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices and a Philadelphia lawyer filed a lawsuit Thursday, asking the state courts to rework a November ballot question that would change the state constitution to give judges five more years before they are forced to retire.

Ex-justices Ronald Castille and Stephen Zappala Sr. and lawyer Dick Sprague argued in a Commonwealth Court lawsuit that the current wording will defraud voters because it does not make clear that the state already has a mandatory judicial retirement age of 70. They say the phrasing leaves the impression the proposed new age limit of 75 would be an “inaugural imposition” of a mandatory retirement age.

“In a democracy, it is indisputable that voters are required to have the information necessary to make the best decisions on matters of critical importance such as a constitutional amendment regarding the retirement age of state judicial officers,” the lawsuit states.

The ballot question had passed in the Legislature in two consecutive sessions and was on the primary ballot in April when lawmakers voted to withdraw it so the wording could be changed to remove a reference to the existing retirement age. Supporters of the rewording say it is simpler and more people will vote on the proposal in the fall, when turnout is higher.

About 2.4 million people voted on the question in April, even though their votes did not count. In unofficial returns, voters defeated the proposal, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Drew Crompton, chief lawyer for the Senate’s Republican majority, said Thursday the three plaintiffs who sued Secretary of State Pedro Cortes may not have proper legal standing to bring such a claim.

Asked about the argument suggesting the rewording is deceitful, Crompton said they are “entitled to their opinion.” He said voters will have access to more detail about the question in a narrative that accompanies the question.

He also said the lawsuit makes claims without evidence or legal authority.

“There’s a limit to how much you include in the question,” Crompton said. “There always is - and the complaint can always be that you can include more.”

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said Cortes plans to use the language the Legislature redrafted in April unless a court orders him to do otherwise.

“Given the constitutional obligation to begin advertising the question in less than two weeks, and the absence of finality in the courts, taking any other course of action would have made it impossible to ensure that the proposed constitutional amendment is properly presented to the voters in November,” said Wolf press secretary Jeff Sheridan.

Castille, Zappala and Sprague also filed a request Thursday asking the state Supreme Court to take over the lawsuit.

Three Democratic senators challenged the Legislature’s last-minute decision to delay the April vote, but a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel ruled earlier this month that lawmakers acted properly under broad authority to decide when and how people will vote on proposed constitutional amendments.

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