On November 7th, voters will select justices to fill three seats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Across the country – including in Pennsylvania – state supreme court elections have become increasingly high-cost and politicized, posing serious threats to the integrity of state courts. As it has in the past, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will be tracking, analyzing, and publishing television spending data from these elections.
Key trends to watch include:
“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania continues to be at the forefront of a troubling new trend – massive outside spending in judicial races that threatens to erode the confidence of the public in our judiciary and, in some cases, create serious ethical conflicts when judges are forced to confront issues that affect their donors,” said Douglas Keith, counsel at the Brennan Center.
"Campaign spending on partisan elections for appellate court positions has continued its troubling and record-breaking rise. Consequently, we are redoubling our efforts to amend Pennsylvania's constitution so that we select judges and justices based on merit, not money,” Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts President & CEO Maida Milone said. “Justice in Pennsylvania should not go to the highest bidder.”
These races are taking place while Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives is considering HB 111, which would put before voters a constitutional amendment to end partisan contested elections for the state’s highest courts. Instead, the amendment would put in place a nominating commission with 13 members appointed by the Governor and General Assembly leaders to vet and recommend judicial candidates to the Governor for appointment. Justices would still face retention elections for subsequent terms.
Spending estimates for the 2017 contests as well as copies of ads and storyboards provided by Kantar Media/CMAG will be available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time page. Data from Pennsylvania's 2015 election is available at Buying Time 2015. (CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels.)
The Brennan Center for Justice, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and formerly Justice at Stake, have documented trends in spending in state supreme court elections since 2000 in a series of reports titled The New Politics of Judicial Elections.
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Fair Courts.
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to recognize the legislators with the inaugural Judge Edmund B. Spaeth, Jr. Award during its Judicial Independence Benefit in October.
(Philadelphia) Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC) is proud to announce that Rep. Bryan Cutler (R – Lancaster) and Rep. Madeleine Dean (D – Abington) will be honored with the inaugural Judge Edmund B. Spaeth, Jr. Award.
Both are primary co-sponsors of HB 111, which would require a ballot referendum for voters to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to create a citizens’ nominating commission to select appellate judges.
Currently, Pennsylvania is one of only six states still electing all of its judges in partisan political elections.
The Judge Edmund B. Spaeth, Jr. Award is named for the former President Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, former PMC Board Chair, and longtime advocate of merit selection of judges and fair and impartial courts.
“As a legislator, it is my job to conduct not only myself in a way that serves Commonwealth residents, but also to influence government as a whole to do the same. It has been a pleasure to champion a bill that would more appropriately address unlawful lobbying practices to increase government transparency,” Rep. Cutler said.
“What an honor it is to be recognized for work we are doing to help people trust their government.”
“We are honored to receive this award, named for an extraordinary jurist, the late President Judge Edmund B. Spaeth Jr.,” added Rep. Dean.
“Judge Spaeth championed what he believed: that judges’ political campaigning is inconsistent with a fair and impartial judiciary. And even more eloquent than his words on the issue of merit selection were his actions: in 1985, he declined to run for retention to a second 10-year term on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.”
“In this era of increasing political division, their bipartisan work on this common sense judicial reform effort is inspiring,” added Maida R. Milone, PMC President & CEO.
Elected in 2012 to represent Pennsylvania's 153rd Legislative District, Rep. Madeleine Dean has nearly three decades of experience as a lawyer, writer and teacher. For 10 years, before becoming a member of the House, Rep. Dean was assistant professor of English at La Salle University in Philadelphia, where she taught writing and rhetoric, legal writing, and ethics.
Along with Rep. Bryan Cutler, she has been the leading voice for merit selection reform in the Legislature.
Elected in 2006 to represent Pennsylvania's 100th Legislative District and a lifelong resident of the Peach Bottom area, Rep. Bryan Cutler began serving as the Majority Whip in 2015. He is a graduate of Widener Law School.
Rep. Cutler has been a driving force for merit selection reform, and with Rep. Dean, has provided the leadership needed to advance this legislation.
HB 111--endorsed by Pennsylvania’s five former living governors—is awaiting a vote by the full House of Representatives.
PMC will honor the Representatives during its Judicial Independence Benefit on October 25th at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. To learn more, visit www.pmconline.org.
What’s wrong with partisan judicial elections? What is it that unites Republican and Democratic former governors against them, or that inspires bipartisan legislative action to replace them? Or how can anyone question the right of the people in a democratic society to elect their judges?
Read more in the Standard Speaker.
Pennsylvania has a budget, but not enough money to pay for it. Gov. Wolf is acting like a bystander, not a player. Most members of the House and Senate have gone to the Shore or the mountains to rest up until after Labor Day. Who would have guessed that doing nothing could be so exhausting?
As one observer succinctly put it: “This isn’t governing, this is an embarrassment.” That person was Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), president pro tem of the state Senate…
…Do you advocate merit selection of judges? Clearer language about the state’s obligation to fund public education? Changing outmoded language on absentee voting? Forbid the state to spend any money – including legislative pay – unless a state budget is passed with the money needed to fund it?
Read the full opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fissures in the foundation can signal critical structural issues. That fact is as true for institutions as it is for real property. If the fundamentals of choosing and disciplining the individuals who serve as pillars of an institution are shaky, the institution will be vulnerable to seismic events.
Looking at Pennsylvania's judiciary, there is currently much to commend. But how can citizens have full faith in the courts if they continue to produce headlines of judicial misconduct and untoward behavior? Every new allegation suggests that something is not as structurally sound as it needs to be.
Read more from The Legal Intelligencer.
Just over one year ago, we came together as former governors from across the political spectrum to call for the adoption of merit selection of statewide judges and justices to the appellate courts of Pennsylvania: Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth courts.
A recent report on the judicial scandals that have plagued our Supreme Court, coupled with runaway spending in some recent judicial races, compel us to renew that call today.
Spending in the 2015 judicial elections topped $16 million. Spending to date in the most recent primary elections alone has hit more than $4.75 million. We can only imagine what will be spent on general election campaigning in the months leading up to November.
Read the full opinion editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, House majority whip and a Republican from Peach Bottom, has introduced House Bill 111,which seeks an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for the merit selection of appellate judges. Jurists on the Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts currently are elected by voters.
This is not a new idea.
Legislation proposing the merit selection of judges has been floated before, repeatedly, to no avail — by Cutler and others, including Attorney General Josh Shapiro, when he served in the House of Representatives.
But Cutler and his lead co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County, believe HB 111 improves on previous bills and has a better chance of seeing the light of day. It was approved by the House Judiciary Committee, but it has a very long way to go (it needs to pass in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly before even going to the voters).
Read the full Lancaster Online editorial here.
What you'll find
PMC press releases, statements, and news coverage of our work, in addition to the latest news on Pennsylvania's courts, judicial elections, ethics, discipline and more.
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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