What is Merit Selection?

  • A new way for Pennsylvania to choose appellate judges.
  • A replacement for the current system of partisan elections with campaigns, fundraising, television ads and robo calls.
  • A hybrid system that combines the best features of appointive and elective systems and adds a new component - an independent, bipartisan citizens commission that screens and evaluates potential candidates for the bench.
  • The selection process has four steps:
    • screening and evaluation by a citizens’ nominating commission that recommends the most qualified candidates to the governor;
    • nomination by the governor of a candidate from the commission’s list;
    • confirmation by the senate; and after a number of years on the bench,
    • retention in a nonpartisan yes-no vote by the public.


How Does Merit Selection Work

 1. The cornerstone of the new selection process would be the creation of a new, independent body:  a nominating commission.

It would be the task of the nominating commission to solicit applications for judicial vacancies, to screen and interview candidates, and to recommend to the Governor the most qualified candidates for nomination to the appellate courts.  The commission would be composed of men and women, non-lawyers and lawyers, from across the state and from diverse backgrounds.  The sole duty of the commission would be to evaluate and recommend candidates for judicial service.

  1. The Governor and legislative leaders of both parties would have a voice in the selection of nominating commission members.

By allowing elected officials to appoint commission members, the public is represented in the selection process.  Sharing the appointment power between the Governor and both parties in the legislature is critical to achieving a bipartisan commission and obtaining widespread support for the use of a commission-based nominating system.

  1. The Public would have a voice in the selection of nominating commission members.

By allowing several seats on the nominating commission to be "public seats," filled not through appointment by an elected official but rather through a process involving organizations including unions, professional associations, public safety organizations, and business organizations, the nominating commission truly becomes a citizens' commission.  This will ensure a direct role for the public on the nominating commission and help engender confidence in the independence of the commission.

  1. The Governor would be bound by, and make judicial appointments from, the list of nominees by the nominating commission with the appointments being subject to Senate confirmation.

The Governor shall be required to nominate a candidate for appointment exclusively from the list of recommended candidates provided by the commission and may not request a list of additional candidates.  Without such limits, the commission process would be meaningless, since it could be undermined by simply ignoring the work of the commission or requesting successive lists until his or her desired candidate appeared on the list.  By subjecting the nominee to Senate confirmation, the public is again represented in the process, and the consent of the Senate imbues the process with bipartisan support.

  1. Deadlines would be imposed for action by the nominating commission, the Governor and the state Senate to ensure that judicial vacancies are filled in a timely fashion.

Strict timelines ensure that judicial vacancies would be filled in a timely manner so that the critical work of the judiciary may continue unimpeded.  Additionally, timelines would combat any efforts by the Governor or the Senate to manipulate the process to result in the appointment of a favored individual and instead focus their attention on the candidates recommended by the nominating commission.

  1. After an initial term in office, statewide judges seeking additional terms would participate in nonpartisan retention elections.

Merit Selection gives voters, through nonpartisan, uncontested retention elections, the final say on whether judges deserve to stay in office after an initial term.