HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) -- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Judiciary Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would amend the state constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for justices, judges and justices of the peace from 70 years to 75.

House Bill 79 cleared the committee on an 18-7 vote.

The bill needs to be passed by the General Assembly two times and then passed by voters in order to amend the constitution.

The measure's approval comes just a week after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in two lawsuits challenging the state's mandatory retirement age, and days after the court took control of a third lawsuit.

In a one-page, per curiam order Friday, court said it will assume plenary jurisdiction over Friedman v. Corbett, explaining that there is "substantial overlap" among the issues presented in it and two other cases that have already been accepted by it for review, Driscoll v. Corbett et al. and Tilson v. Corbett et al.

Last week, the court heard Driscoll and Tilson during an oral argument session held in Harrisburg.

Under the state's constitution, judges must retire at the end of the year in which they reach age 70. They may continue working as senior judges.

However, as senior judges, they do not receive the same salary or benefits.

In Driscoll, Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas Judge John J. Driscoll, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Sandra Mazer Moss and colleague Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe want the mandatory retirement provision nullified and declared invalid, and have the court enjoin the defendants from enforcing the provision.

The named defendants in both cases are Gov. Tom Corbett, Court Administrator Zygmont A. Pines and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol T. Aichele.

In Tilson, Montgomery County Court Judge Arthur Tilson argues that the constitutional requirement is at odds with the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantee of equal rights.

He, too, wants the provision nullified and declared invalid.

But a lawyer for Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman -- one of two judges who brought the third state court case -- contends that their lawsuit is different than Driscoll and Tilson.

Tom Groshens of Sprague & Sprague told The Legal Intelligencer earlier this week that the case also includes claims by qualified voters -- Robert H. Riefle, Bonita L. DiCarlo and Thomas A. Beckley -- who contend that the state's mandatory retirement age deprived them of the efficacy of their votes.

For example, in Friedman's case, her 10-year term was cut short by three years.

Groshens also pointed out that the suit challenges a constitutional amendment that changed the mandatory retirement from a judge's actual 70th birthday to the end of the year in which a judge turns 70, allowing some judges to serve longer than others.

Friedman and Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alan M. Rubenstein originally filed the lawsuit, which also involves Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Eugene Edward J. Maier. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge William J. Manfredi has filed an application to intervene.

The named defendants include Corbett, Pines, Aichele and State Treasurer Robert M. McCord.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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