Gavel Grab

Editorial: Time to Change Selection Process for Pennsylvania Judges

As suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin went to trial for corruption charges, two Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill to end elections for appellate judges and implement a method of merit selection.

According to a Reading Eagle editorial, the bill would establish a 15 member commission which would send a short list of judicial candidates to the governor. The governor would then make appointments from that list for openings on state appellate courts (see Gavel Grab).

Currently, judges are elected to the bench. Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Lynn Marks, said that “it doesn’t make sense to have people campaign in a totally partisan process, while at the same time they’re pledging to be nonpartisan after Election Day.” PMC is a Justice at Stake partner group.

The editorial says that since judges are prohibited from discussing how they would rule on certain issues, it makes little sense for them to spend time campaigning.

Merit selection would be a superior process for choosing  judges on statewide courts, the editorial argues, although it supports elections of local judges.

It goes on to mention that the Brennan Center for Justice has frequently found high levels of spending in Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections. The Brennan Center is also a Justice at Stake partner group.

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