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District Offices
Lehigh County Office
Star Plaza, Suite 302
6299 Route 309
New Tripoli, PA 18066
(610) 760-7082
M-F 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Capitol Office
113 Ryan Office Building
PO Box 202187
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2187
Phone: (717) 787-3017
Fax: (717) 705-1951

High Court Makes Shining Decision
9/21/2011
On Sept. 13, television history was made in Pennsylvania in terms of broadcasting of state government activities, and I applaud both the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for their new partnership.

For the first time, PCN began covering gavel-to-gavel sessions of the state’s Supreme Court, which is the nation’s oldest appellate court. This body makes final interpretations of state law and has administrative authority over the entire Pennsylvania court system.

The state’s highest court, which first heard arguments in 1684, meets six times a year for a week at a time. Up until now, the only way to watch oral arguments was to watch them in person – a considerable obstacle if one works during the day or lives some distance from one of the session sites – Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

While watching the state’s high court may not be “must-see TV” for the majority of Pennsylvanians, this decision represents a new chapter in openness and transparency of state government. For many years, our citizens have demanded greater access to their government and the ability to watch what’s “going on behind the scenes.”

Long gone are the days of smoke-filled rooms where decisions important to Pennsylvanians were made. However, there hasn’t been nearly the level of transparency that our citizens expect. Television has become a powerful medium, and we should use this broadcast outlet to inform our residents about their government.

For many years, sessions of the Pennsylvania House and Senate have been broadcast, allowing residents to see, in real time, how state laws are debated and passed. And sessions of the state’s other appellate courts – the Superior and Commonwealth courts – have been broadcast, beginning in 1999 and 2006, respectively.

Now that PCN’s cameras are allowed in the state’s highest court, I believe this sheds important insight to the state’s judiciary. Many people know how a bill becomes a law or that the executive branch carries out the laws made by the Legislature, but people are often confused with the state’s appellate court system and when it comes into play. These sessions will help to answer those questions.

As a co-equal branch of government, the judicial system is just as important as the legislative and executive branches. As the “interpreter” of our state’s laws, the judicial system often determines whether or not laws are consistent with our state and federal constitutions and can serve as a powerful tool to keep the other two branches of government from overstepping their boundaries.

In fact, the Supreme Court receives nearly 2,500 civil and criminal appeals each year, but like the U.S. Supreme Court can decide which cases it wants to hear. The ones that the seven justices do consider are those that have statewide importance or need clarification on a point of law.

The first sessions to be broadcast included oral arguments presented to the court over three days. One of the first Supreme Court sessions to be broadcast in mid-September dealt with the state’s MCare Fund and whether or not former Gov. Ed Rendell had the constitutional ability to use money in the MCare Fund to pay the state’s bills. The main argument for the Supreme Court justices to decide: Whose money was it?

After oral arguments are completed, the justices will confer and issue both affirmative and assenting opinions. These are all available online.

It’s important to keep in mind that PCN is owned by our state’s cable companies and does not use one penny of taxpayer money to offer its services.

The broadcast of Supreme Court sessions is a decision that I wholeheartedly support and applaud, and I look forward to watching the high court on PCN.

To find out when the Supreme Court will be broadcast, visit PCNTV.com for a daily broadcast schedule. For more information about the highest court, visit PACourts.us/T/SupremeCourt.
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