Paul Muschick of the Morning Call recently made the case that state judges should repeatedly face competitive, partisan elections. We disagreed with Paul when he interviewed us, but we want to be absolutely clear: more frequent, competitive judicial elections would do incredible damage to our judiciary.
When we elect representatives and executives, we send them to Harrisburg with an agenda, and they’re expected to fight for that agenda. If the voters change their minds, they elect someone else the next time around.
Judges, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to be fighters or partisans. They should be qualified, even-tempered, impartial, and principled. When the winds of public opinion blow strong, the judiciary remains stable and protects us from tyranny.
Holding regular, competitive elections for judges would erode that protection, compromising the stability and independence of the judiciary and fundamentally tarnishing the objectivity of their office.
This isn’t a hypothetical problem. Our system is already being hurt by partisan judicial elections.
Our state-level judges run as Democrats and Republicans, beholden to party politics, and they need to raise a lot of money if they want to win. How can we be expected to trust our judges after that? We will always have to wonder if their rulings are made to please their partisan colleagues in the House and the Governor’s office. We will always wonder if they were paid off by the right people in the form of campaign contributions.
Furthermore, this would create a heated perpetual battle for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Reports by the Brennan Center already show that more money is being spent on state Supreme Court elections than ever before, but imagine the constant campaigning and massive sums of money if every seats on the court were always up for grabs.
That’s why we’re proud to stand with the League of Women Voters and the Pennsylvania Bar Association in calling for merit selection. A bipartisan commission nominates a list of candidates to the Governor, the Governor chooses candidates from that list, the legislature approves or disapproves them. The public votes on the judges selected in retention elections every six years. It’s a set of checks and balances that the Founding Fathers would approve of.
Constant competitive judicial elections would do serious harm to the Commonwealth. More than ever, we need a judiciary that doesn’t shift with the breeze. In times of political turbulence, the judiciary stands firm. If you share our concerns, we encourage you to call your representatives and ask them to support merit selection.
Philadelphia Inquirer: About that court ruling that could change the face of Pennsylvania politics | John Baer
The thing about change? Especially in places not used to it? If it comes, it comes quickly. Like a lightning bolt.
Like the state Supreme Court ruling this week that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are overly partisan, unconstitutional, and need to be redrawn right now.
[ . . . ]
But why do we have this ruling? Because, of course, of politics.
Because back in 2015, three Democrats (Philly’s Kevin Dougherty, Pittsburgh’s David Wecht, Pittsburgh’s Christine Donohue), mostly with money from labor and lawyers, way outspent GOP opponents in the nation’s costliest Supreme Court race and won three seats on the state’s high court, flipping it from R to D.
Just like that. And when that now-Democratic court voted to throw out the Republican maps, it voted along party lines.
Within an hour of the ruling, a national Democratic campaign consultant called solely to say this: “Elections have consequences.”
They do, indeed.
And some could reach beyond the state. For if there’s a Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections, Pennsylvania becomes critical to any hope Democrats may have of capturing the U.S. House.
Also, an ancillary issue that might get steam from all this? Merit selection of statewide judges.
In Pennsylvania, one of only seven states electing judges at all levels, the issue of a merit system has hung around for years as a good-government initiative, sometimes inertly, sometimes charged up by one judicial scandal or another.
Well, political gain is a great motivator.
Speaking with GOP state chief Val DiGiorgio, I suggest Republicans might now have new fire for pushing judicial merit appointments.
He smiled and flashed a thumb up.
I shared this with Groen. Groen groaned: “Oh, yeah, now they’ll become good-government people.”
Just think. The possibility of two reforms — fairer districts and merit selection – coming at once.
Read the whole article at the Inquirer.
This politicization of the courts was the focus of a recent report from Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University Law School. In it, the authors examine the growing cost of state Supreme Court races, and the heightened potential influence donor dollars might have on the judges that receive them..
The report found that record-breaking money is being spent on state Supreme Court races across the country. And that’s led court-watchers and advocates of independent jurisprudence to worry aloud whether all this money is undermining courts seen as the last word in state law disputes and a check on the executive and legislative branches of state government.
Maida Milone, president and CEO or Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that’s monitored the state’s Supreme Court races for 20 years and is an advocate for changes in the way judges are seated, agreed with Bannon’s assertion that party politics played a large role in the high cost of the contests.
“It was an opportunity to make an impact on the bench – either on the partisan leaning or the philosophies of the judges,” Milone said.
According to the Brennan Center report, about $5.7 million of the money spent on state Supreme Court races in Pennsylvania in 2015 was from independent groups that relied on dark money. It’s impossible to trace where it came from and what influence was expected in return, and Milone said that creates an appearance of impropriety that needs to be avoided.
Read the whole article at Courthouse News.
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Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges
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