Justice Eakin resignation was right move
It’s not often we congratulate someone who’s done something wrong.
But state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin did the right thing by resigning his seat on Tuesday.
And for that much, thanks.
For the six months of back-and-forth that Pennsylvanians had to endure courtesy of Eakin’s involvement in the so-called “Porngate” scandal?
Well, not so much.
Eakin, a Republican, follows into retirement former Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat who was implicated in the widespread sharing of pornographic, racist and sexist emails by members of the statewide judiciary and the legal profession.
The emails that ended Eakin’s career on the bench were brought to light as a result of embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s investigation of her predecessors’ handling of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal.
If there has been one salutary effect of Kane’s tragic fall (she faces criminal charges in Montgomery County), it is at least that her actions exposed the frat house culture of Pennsylvania’s legal profession.
As PennLive’s Charles Thompson reports Eakin’s quiet exit from the court, announced by his attorney, William Costopoulos, brings to an end his “public argument that a man who privately laughs at racial, ethnic and sexual humor can fairly judge essential legal issues pertaining to civil rights and fairness in the criminal justice system.”
We hope also that it has brought to an end the culture of scandal surrounding Pennsylvania highest court.
From an electioneering conviction to Porngate it can safely be said that Pennsylvanians have had to put up with a lot from an institution that should be beyond reproach.
Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and the newly elected members of the high court have already begun to do the hard work of repairing the court’s public reputation.
But there is a part for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly to play as well.
With Eakin’s resignation, the seven-member court has been reduced to six members.
It will be up to Wolf to appoint a replacement and for the Senate to confirm that person.
As Pennsylvania’s hyper-extended budget debate has made clear, Wolf and the Legislature have proven woefully incapable of agreeing on much of anything. And with an election ahead, the temptation of further gridlock is great.
But when it comes to appointing Eakin’s replacement, they should that resist that temptation and keep in mind that voters have little confidence in their ability to do the right thing.
Moving quickly to fill Eakin’s vacancy would be a good first step toward fixing that.