A bipartisan group of all six living Pennsylvania governors are standing together in a call for lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would give Pennsylvanians a voice in the way the state selects statewide appellate judges.
Former Governors Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, Ed Rendell, Tom Corbett, and current Gov. Tom Wolf sent a letter this week to all House members noting the serious flaws in the state's judicial selection system and expressing their support of a merit selection process for statewide judges.
Common Pleas judges and magisterial judges would continue to be elected.
On October 20, 2015 the House Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote reported out a proposed amendment to the state's constitution-- House Bill 1336 (Cutler-R-Lancaster)-- that would put a merit selection process in place.
Merit selection -- a hybrid appointive-elective system -- would require appellate court judges to be selected based on their qualifications, effectively keeping money out of the state's judicial selection system.
Seventy-six percent of Pennsylvanians believe that judges are influenced by campaign contributions.
This is no fault of current or past judges, who must seek contributions to win campaign judicial office, but it does create an appearance of impropriety that weakens public confidence in the judiciary.
The governors' letter stated that "The 2015 judicial election season was an inauspicious start to what should be a new era of spotless judicial ethics following years of public scandal. This was not the candidates' fault: they must run within the broken system of expensive, partisan elections.”
"As former governors, we stand together on this critical issue because we believe this is an important step in regaining the integrity of Pennsylvania's judicial system," Gov. Ridge said. "Merit selection will place judges in our legal system who can simply focus on justice and not fundraising and campaigning."
"For Pennsylvania to have the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges, we need to have a process in place that allows for a disconnect between the judicial system and political campaigning and fundraising," Gov. Rendell said. "A merit selection process is long overdue for our statewide courts."
Gov. Mark Schweiker said that, "Merit selection is a commonsense solution used in many states. In fact, we are one of a small number of states that elects all our judges in partisan elections. Merit selection is not perfect – no system is – but it is a vast improvement over our current system where judges are often selected based on fundraising ability, name recognition, ballot position or party affiliation. Merit selection would write qualifications into the Constitution and ensure that our judges meet more than the minimum standards."
Lynn A. Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCAction, said "A growing number of Pennsylvanians and editorial boards across the state want to get our state judges out of the campaign and fundraising business. They want to widen the pool of well-qualified candidates to those who don't think they could raise the funds to win or aren't politically connected."
Merit selection is a hybrid form of appointing and electing appellate judges. Candidates would apply to a bipartisan commission that interviews them, reviews their records and recommends a short list to the governor. The governor must nominate one of them.
Following Senate confirmation, a judge would serve an initial four year term, and then stand in a nonpartisan retention (up or down) election for subsequent 10 year terms.
Since merit selection requires changing the state constitution, it must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then go before voters in a public referendum.Polling done in 2010 showed that 93 percent of Pennsylvanians want the opportunity to vote on the issue.
6 Living PA Governors Push For Merit Selection Of Judges