A legislative committee’s vote to table legislation permitting the merit selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania came under sharp criticism from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial. The editorial lamented:
“What an irony: Lawmakers who want the people to keep voting for judges don’t want the people to have the chance to decide whether they want to keep voting for judges.”
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-12 on Tuesday to table the legislation, written to put before voters a question of shifting from judicial elections to a merit-based appointment and retention (up-or-down) election system.
Given the recent filing of public corruption charges against a sitting Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, the editorial said, “[T]he occasion has never been riper to get politics out of judicial elections. The headlines on Justice Joan Orie Melvin being charged with using her staff to do campaign work on state time surely wouldn’t be written if a merit selection process were used.”
The measure might have passed the committee “if anti-abortion lobbyists hadn’t threatened legislators with repercussions,” the editorial said. It was entitled, “Bill with merit: But lawmakers won’t let voters have a referendum.”
A preliminary hearing for Justice Melvin is scheduled for July 9, according to an Associated Press article. A judge deferred this week ruling on her motion that asked for the entire Allegheny County Common Pleas bench to step aside in the case.
To learn more about the debate over merit selection versus judicial elections, visit the JAS issues page on the topic. For background about the debate over merit selection in Pennsylvania, see Gavel Grab.