The Pennsylvania Constitution prevents the General Assembly from canceling the salary increases it granted the judiciary last year, a lawyer for a judge told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The attorney, Robert C. Heim, represents Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John W. Herron, who wants the raises reinstated.

The Legislature “chose to do what it thought was politically wise” when it repealed the raises, Heim said. “Of course, as your honors know, this court does not have that option.”

Pay raises for judges, executive branch officials and lawmakers passed the General Assembly in the dead of night on July 7, but were repealed in November after a heated public outcry.

The issue has spawned at least five lawsuits, and on Tuesday the high court heard two hours of argument in three of the cases.

Herron and a separate group of seven judges filed lawsuits that aim to reinstate pay raises for more than 1,000 judges, including the justices.

The third lawsuit, by Harrisburg political activist Gene Stilp, challenges the constitutionality of how the law was passed and the legality of allowing lawmakers to collect the raises immediately as “unvouchered expenses” despite a constitutional ban on midterm raises.

Stilp said state spending records show there is no need for extra money to help lawmakers pay their expenses.

“Every imaginable expense is taken care of by the budget,” Stilp said.

Stilp’s argument, summarized Justice Ronald D. Castille, was that unvouchered expenses are a “thinly disguised pay raise. And not very thinly.”

Complicating matters is a provision, known as a nonseverability clause, in the July pay-raise law that makes the entire law void if any part of it is ruled unconstitutional.

It is not clear what that would mean for the judges’ lawsuits.

If the original law was unconstitutional, then the repeal could not have “diminished judicial compensation,” said C. Clark Hodgson Jr., representing House Speaker John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia.

“It was money that was paid in error.”

Justice Max Baer asked whether the court could strike the nonseverability clause if it determines it was meant to pressure the courts to uphold the law.

But John P. Krill Jr., attorney for Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair, said there was no basis for doing that, even if that motivated some of the legislators who voted for it.

He said nonseverability clauses are an important tool in forging legislative compromises.

“For it ever to work again in the future, it has to be an ironclad guarantee,” Krill said.

The repeal demonstrated the Legislature responds to the will of the public, he said, cautioning the court against going too far in dictating how lawmakers do their job.

“The court is not in a position to set curfews for legislative debate,” Krill said.

Heim noted afterward that the nonseverability clause was a prominent feature of the justices’ questions.

“If a principle concern of the court is preserving independence, you shouldn’t permit the Legislature to condition a judicial pay increase on it,” he said.

“It’s a way of saying, ’If you don’t give us our benefit, we’ll take away yours.”’

The case was heard by six justices. Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, who advocated for judicial pay raises, is not participating in the cases.

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