A topic that has surfaced on the blog from time to time is the movement to change judicial selection in Pennsylvania from election to selection. We currently vote on judges. Only five other states (Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas and Illinois) still elect judges. Some people think we should have a selection process. The big question is always who does the selecting and how do they make the selections. A bill introduce in the legislature today suggests this:
Legislation being proposed to change the process would create a 14-member nonpartisan citizens-based Appellate Court Nomination Commission to screen judicial candidates and develop a list of potential nominees for the governor. Following nomination by the governor and confirmation by the state Senate, a judge would serve an initial term of four years and would then go before voters in a retention election. Voters would ultimately decide at that point, and again every 10 years, whether the judge should stay on the bench.
The senate bill is being sponsored by Sen. Jane Earll Sen. Anthony H. Williams; the house bill by Rep. David Steil and Rep. Josh Shapiro. Gov. Rendell is also in favor of merit selection.
One aspect of electing judges that those in favor of merit selection often bring up is the influence of money on campaigning. According to Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts during the 2007 Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, candidates spent a record $7.85 million in their campaigns for two open seats.
Studies show lawyers contribute much of the campaign money to Pennsylvania judicial candidates.
There also is growing involvement by third party groups, even groups from outside Pennsylvania, in recent elections. Such groups are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence our judicial elections, Marks said.
Pennsylvania judges can and do preside over cases involving individuals, organizations and attorneys who make large donations to their campaigns. This fuels the perception that campaign contributions influence courtroom decisions and contributes to the growing lack of public confidence in our courts.
The commission making the recommendations to the governor would consist of:
Five public members of the ‘Appellate Court Nomination Commission’ will be selected by a process involving civic groups, unions, business organizations, non-lawyer, professional associations and public safety organizations. These members will be selected by public constituencies, not by any elected officials.
One public member also must be a dean of a Pennsylvania law school selected by all the deans of the state’s law schools.
Four of the members would be appointed by the governor, and four by the General Assembly (one each by the Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, Speaker of the House and House Minority Leader.)
Gubernatorial appointees must be from four different counties. Two will be lawyers and two will be non-lawyers. No more than two appointees can be of the same political party.
Legislative appointees must be lawyers.
Commission members will serve four years. They will receive no compensation except for expenses.
The Commission will present a list of recommended candidates to the Governor. To be on this list, one must be in good standing with the bar; have practiced law, been on the bench or worked in the legal field for at least 10 years; and have demonstrated integrity, judicial temperament, professional competence and commitment to the community. The list should include men and women candidates who reflect the racial, ethnic and geographic diversity of the Commonwealth.
The governor will nominate from the list, and the nominee will then go before the Senate for confirmation.
Judges would face a retention election after an initial four years in a nonpartisan ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. Each judge would then go before the public in regular retention votes every 10 years.
The Inky published a story on this last Friday (3/14): "New call for merit selection of judges" by Amy Worden.
Full disclosure: Most of the information for this post came from materials presented on the new blog, judgesonmerit.org
Wardrobe notes: A tie spy implied that Josh Shapiro's orange reform tie made an appearance at today's press conference announcing the new legislation. If you check the photos carefully, it does seem to be the same tie he wore at the signing of the open records law.