Maida Millone, executive director of advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, says that all potential statewide judges should be required to submit their names to a citizens appellate nominating commission.
“Not every individual submits, so we’re not always comparing apples to apples,” she said of the process as it stands.
This is a key part of a “merit selection” bill awaiting action in the state House that would replace elections with an initial nomination and would give voters the ability to weigh in on retention four years later.
Millone emphasized that the proposed nominating process would differ from the federal system. The Trump administration has nominated four prospective judges that have received the lowest ranking from the American Bar Association, but this would be unlikely to happen under the merit selection process, she said.
“Ten of 13 members on the nominating committee need to agree before presenting a name to the governor,” she said. “You’re not going to see a situation where, as on the federal side, just one person — the president — can simply propose someone to the bench, regardless of what that person’s qualifications are.”
Advocates have pushed for an end to partisan judicial elections in Pennsylvania for years to no avail, and the prospects of the latest bill remain uncertain. If voters are picking statewide judges again in 2019, the statewide bar association might want to look to the example set by the Philadelphia Bar Association this past spring, when it dispatched lawyers to polling places to distribute information about its own judicial evaluations for the primary election.
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