Gavel Grab

O’Connor Pushes for Reform of PA Judicial Election System

Addressing the Philadelphia Bar Association, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called it a “serious problem that people in this country think of judges as politicians in robes,” reported. She urged the lawyers’ group, which backs merit-based selection of judges, to continue pushing for reform.

There is an erosion of public trust in impartial courts when judges are seen as politicians, Justice O’Connor warned. She mentioned opinion polling showing that almost three in four Americans believe campaign contributions have an influence on judges, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported.

Pennsylvania has seen some of the nation’s most expensive judicial elections, Justice O’Connor noted.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said about Justice O’Connor’s remarks:

“Judicial selection reform is not necessarily the most eye-catching or ‘sexy’  issue. However, vocal support from nationally respected figures like Justice O’Connor highlights the need for change. Campaign money, special interest group and political party endorsements, a familiar name, or good ballot position shouldn’t play such a big role in choosing jurists, who play such a critical role in society.”

Justice O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its First Honorary Chair. In Philadelphia, she also discussed iCivics, an educational website she founded that is designed to reverse the decline in the public’s civic knowledge.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a JAS partner group. At a website it sponsors,, Matthew Strout discussed a low turnout rate of 14.7 percent in the recent Democratic primary for a Pennsylvania Superior Court seat. The GOP turnout rate in the primary was 14 percent. His commentary was entitled, “A Fundamental Problem with Judicial Elections: Low Voter Turnout.”

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