Pennsylvania: constitutional amendment would require non-attorneys pass exam before they can even run for judicial office; currently they can run and be elected, but can’t assume office

The Pennsylvania Constitution currently provides that justices of the peace (referred to in statute as magisterial district court judges) are to be elected. For non-attorneys election is only the first step, they must then “complete a course of training and instruction in the duties of their respective offices and pass an examination prior to assuming office.”

This presents a problem: what happens if the non-attorney doesn’t pass the exam? Or take the course at all?

Back in the 1970s the state legislature tried to require non-attorneys take the exam prior to running for office to avoid this, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court (Flegal v. Dixon, 472 Pa. 249, 372 A.2d 406 (1977))

The Act’s imposition of the additional requirement that the instruction and examination be completed before filing nominating petitions is therefore unconstitutional.

Now, members of the Pennsylvania House wants to amend the constitution to in effect overturn Flegal.

Under HB 1645 as introduced a non-attorney would have to take the course and pass the exam prior to even being nominated or running for office.

HB 1645 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

This isn’t the first time legislators have attempted amend the state’s constitution to require non-attorney pass the exam before they can run for office. Similar efforts were made on the Senate side (SB 521 of 2015; SB 170 of 2013; SB 57 of 2011; SB 1119 of 2009; SB 696 of 2007), none of which advanced out of committee.