The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required) joined Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts by endorsing Merit Selection of Pennsylvania's appellate judges. The endorsement followed in the wake of the grand jury investigation of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin for allegedly using state employees to work on her political campaign for the Supreme Court. The Intelligencer argued that:
“Electing judges the same way we elect executive and legislative branch officials ignores the fundamental difference between judges and other officials. Judges are not supposed to represent constituencies, be responsive to popular will or partisan pressure, or make promises about what they will do in office. By contrast, legislators and executive officials are expected to do these things. The result of electing judges like we elect other officials is that the public believes — as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said — that judges are just politicians in robes.”
The paper noted that the skills required to get elected to the Commonwealth's appellate courts, fundraising, gaining the support of special interest groups, and the receiving the backing of a political party, are not “related to one's qualifications to serve on the bench.” The editorial stated that Pennsylvanians deserve a fair and impartial judiciary where attorneys and their clients can be confident that the law, not their opposing party's campaign contributions, will decide the case.
“The answer is merit selection for the appellate courts. Merit selection will stop the flow of money from lawyers, law firms, businesses, unions and special interest groups to the judges who will later be deciding their cases. Merit selection will focus on the qualifications of those who wish to serve on the appellate courts and ensure that we have experienced, wise, ethical judges staffing our appellate bench. Merit selection will provide opportunities for talented lawyers from all over Pennsylvania — regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, political connections or access to big funders — to reach the bench. Merit selection will protect the dignity and integrity of our courts and restore public confidence in the judicial branch. Judicial elections not only cannot do this but undoubtedly undermine public trust and confidence in the judiciary.”
Currently, Merit Selection legislation is pending before the legislature. If passed, the voters of Pennsylvania will eventually be able to decide whether to amend the state constitution and have our appellate judges chosen based on qualifications, not money or politics. Please contact your state representatives and senators and tell them now is the time to pass Merit Selection.