Changes on the bench at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have prompted two state agencies to petition the court to rehear arguments in an ongoing challenge to the controversial Marcellus Shale drilling law known as Act 13. But whether a new Supreme Court justice will be able to participate in the final ruling is a matter of some speculation.
Correale Stevens was sworn in last week to replace former Justice Joan Orie Melvin who was found guilty on political corruption charges in February. Melvin had been suspended at the time the Supreme Court first heard arguments on a challenge to a provision of Act 13 last October.
The Public Utility Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection yesterday filed a joint request to resubmit the case before all seven members of the high court.
“Due to the high-profile nature and importance of the case, we believe that it is in everyone’s best interests to have the entire Court review the case now that they are at full strength,” said Denise McCracken, a spokeswoman for the PUC.
Stevens, who was nominated by Governor Tom Corbett to fill Melvin’s seat, is a Republican and tilts the bench to a 4-3 GOP majority.
However, it is unlikely Stevens will be able to participate in the ruling because he was not present for oral arguments last fall, according to Supreme Court spokeswoman Amy Kelchner.
Kelchner told StateImpact that the court considers oral arguments to be an “integral” part of important cases, although there are options. The court could ask both sides of the case to submit briefs to allow an additional justice to weigh in on the ruling.
“The court could [also] ask that the case be re-argued…,” Kelchner said. “I would say that has rarely, rarely, rarely happened, but it could happen.”
The Public Utility Commission filed a second petition Tuesday, asking the Supreme Court to take up its appeal of an October 2012 Commonwealth Court decision barring them from reviewing local governments’ drilling ordinances. The high court refused to review the PUC’s appeal last month. Now, the PUC wants the full Supreme Court to reconsider.
“The Court’s recent decision left some ambiguity regarding the injunction that the Commission is requesting that the Court clear up,” McCracken said.