Governor Cannot Remove Open Records Director without Cause

The Executive Director of the Office of Open Records (OOR) is not subject to the Governor’s constitutional power to remove his appointees at-will, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in Arneson v. Wolf, __ A.3d __ (No. 51 MAP 2015, filed Oct. 27, 2015). The ruling affirmed a June 2015 decision by the Commonwealth Court, which was summarized in a previous blog entry. Writing for a 3-1 majority, Justice Baer adopted the intermediate court’s analysis, noting that it properly examined the specific language and purpose of the Right-to-Know Law to discern that the legislature intended to limit the Governor’s removal power under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court emphasized the narrow reach of its decision due to the OOR’s “status as a unique, independent agency charged with the delicate task of applying the

[Right-to-Know Law], and the need to insulate the OOR and its Executive Director from the potential for coercive influence from a Governor.”

In dissent, Justice Todd opined that Governor Wolf acted within his constitutional authority for the reasons expressed by President Judge Pellegrini in his dissent below. See Arneson v. Wolf, 117 A.3d 374 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015) (Pellegrini, P.J., dissenting). Justice Stevens did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

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