Pa. Supreme Court Nixes Residency Requirement for Petition Circulators
“The district residency requirement discerned in Section 2911(d) is unenforceable by the Secretary and the courts of this Commonwealth,” wrote Chief Justice Ron Castille in the majority opinion (PDF).
Castile explained that it was necessary to rule because an earlier Commonwealth Court ruling and a federal ruling on the matter were contradictory, and could interfere with a future election.
“The issue has the potential to arise in the crucible of an election contest, thereby leaving little time for considered deliberation,” he wrote.
The ruling ends speculation as to what might have happened had the ballot challenge against Rep. Jason Altmire’s petitions continued. Check out the legal analysis of that case here.
As we concluded then, Altmire was never in danger of being knocked off the ballot; the Pa. Supreme Court has been looking for an opportunity to strike the residency requirement for years.
Pa. was one of just two states to impose the requirement (the other is California).
The ruling came as a result of an appeal by Carl Stevenson, an independent who ran for state House in the 134th district in 2010. His petitions were challenged on the grounds that many were collected by an independent candidate for Congress, who resided outside the district.
Ultimately, he was knocked off the ballot on a line-by-line challenge not related to the residency requirement. But he asked the Court to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the requirement to avoid such confusion in the future.
He cited the 2002 case of Morrill v. Weaver, when a federal court ruled that Pa’s residency requirement for circulators is unconstitutional. Morrill was also an independent candidate.
Stevenson’s Commonwealth Court judge had rejected the Morrill argument on the simple grounds that the Commonwealth Court is not bound by rulings of lower federal courts.