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Govs Back Merit Selection Amendment

PA Supreme CourtIt’s not often all six of Pennsylvania’s living governors can agree on something, but the pricey Supreme Court battle in 2015 pointed out “serious flaws” in the state’s judicial selection system.

Former Governors Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, Ed Rendell and Tom Corbett joined Tom Wolf in calling for a constitutional amendment to ensure merit selection for statewide appellate judges.

“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,” the Governors wrote last week in a letter to all House members. “This was not the candidates’ fault: they must run within the broken system of expensive, partisan elections.”

Schweiker called the constitutional amendment a “commonsense solution” to ensure judges “meet more than the minimum standards,” while Rendell said an amendment is “long overdue for our courts.”

A proposed merit selection amendment was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee in October.

“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,” Rendell said.

Merit selection would require judicial candidates to apply to a bipartisan commission, which would recommend qualified judges to the Governor. The Governor must then nominate a judge to fill the vacancy, who would undergo the Senate confirmation process.

A confirmed judge would serve an initial four-year term. The judge would then stand for a yes-or-no retention election for a 10-year term.

“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,” Ridge said in the letter. “Merit selection will place judges in our legal system who can simply focus on justice and not fundraising and campaigning.”

Judicial selection changes for Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme Court justices would require an amendment to the PA Constitution. To amend the constitution, a bill must be passed by both chambers for two sessions in a row, before being approved in a public referendum. Common Pleas and magisterial judges would continue to be elected.

7 Responses

  1. Ed Rendell is probably on board because he is being so badly embarrassed by Cynthia Baldwin, who he put on the PA Supreme Court. She was considered “dumber than a cafeteria worker” by Allegheny County attorneys. That has been recently confirmed by how she unethically botched the grand jury representation of the Penn State 3, which could undermine the Jerry Sandusky conviction, as it already has destroyed the trials for the Penn State cover-up.

  2. Although this places great power in the governor, which could be abused, at least there is the Senate confirmation of his appointee to put a potential check on that. But in PA, that will likely translate to horse trading your buddy being OK if you also appoint my buddy. Cannot be much worse than the present system.

  3. It’s about time! One of the tenants of the judicial branch of government is that they are beholden only to the law and the interpretation thereof. By having judges and justices participate in the political election process is makes them have to declare and swear to a set of political beliefs. The judicial branch is there to make sure our elected representatives do not go beyond what is acceptable under the law; they cannot do this if they are a part of the same political beast causing the problems.

  4. Merit selection by politicians will not work. Pennsylvania tried this once before in the 19th century and abandoned it because of political scrapping.

  5. Very funny. They are so transparent.

    But let’s face it – Having Johnny Doc’s brother on the Supreme Court does raise some red-flags. Especially when his role in Hate-gate (whatever that was) did not get reported until after he was elected.

    Many have suggested that Doc was involved in framing Kathy Kane to protect his brother.

  6. Funny that they’re concerned now when 5 democrats swept the races. Where were they when the R’s were winning the majority of the races? All so called “merit selection” does is shift the decision making from the people(voters) to the establishment.

  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?

    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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