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.
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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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