Recently the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania again underscored its willingness to impede justice in the contentious case of imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal through issuance of an unusual decision that utilized a rarely employed power of that court.
Pennsylvania's highest court used its King's Bench authority to order an investigation into conflict of interest charges against the District Attorney's Office in Philadelphia leveled by avowed enemies of Abu-Jamal.
Those opponents, in their request to the Pa Supreme Court, included a claim that Philadelphia's DA Office was not aggressive enough in its opposition to appeals filed by this inmate convicted in 1982 for murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Opponents want the DA's Office removed from the case.
Many across the U.S. and internationally view Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner.
One consequence of that uncommon investigation ordered by the Supreme Court is to further delay deliberations on an appeal pending for Abu-Jamal that ironically centers on instances of misconduct against Abu-Jamal by a member of the Pa Supreme Court.
King's Bench is an extraordinary authority exercised by the highest courts in only a few states. It permits those courts to override the ordinary legal process. Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings limit King's Bench to issues of "public importance" that require timely intervention. As a general legal principle, King's Bench is not appropriate for an individual or group simply displeased with a governmental action.
Last fall the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected King's Bench relief for two inmates who argued the death penalty violated the cruel punishment prohibition in Pennsylvania's state Constitution. One of those inmates has languished in death row isolation for 25-years. A Pennsylvania Supreme Court commission appointed in 1999 documented flaws and racial bias in Pa's death penalty, findings similar to those of a 2018 Pa legislative task force.
While Pennsylvania's highest court did not deem death penalty injustices of public importance it did grant a King's Bench request based on displeasure against Philadelphia's DA Office from an individual and a group long engaged in a revenge campaign against Abu-Jamal.