Sep 24 2015

PMC Executive Director Lynn Marks Advocates for Merit Selection on National TV

Published by under Merit Selection

PMC Executive Director Lynn Marks appeared on national news show Ali Velshi On Target last month to advocate for merit selection of judges. Although Velshi correctly stated that opponents of merit selection often believe that the people deserve the opportunity to elect their judiciary and hold judges accountable for their actions, judges actually wind up catering to a very different constituency: lawyers and special interest groups who hope to influence court decisions.

Enormous amounts of resources are required to run a successful judicial campaign. The seven candidates in the upcoming PA Supreme Court election for three vacancies, for example, have already raised $8.4 million. Much of this money comes from attorneys or special interest groups who have an interest in which judges reach or stay on the bench. It also creates significant problems for judges, who are simultaneously charged with the duty to interpret the law impartially and encouraged to favor those who have contributed to their campaigns. Though bias in court rulings resulting from campaign contributions is difficult to prove, an often-touted New York Times study from 2006 examined a group of judges in Ohio and found that they voted in favor of contributors 70 percent of the time. Even if judges were never swayed by campaign contributions, the current system still undermines the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

Marks was quick to point out that neither judges nor donors are directly to blame for this phenomenon. Lawyers who donate to a judicial candidate’s Super PAC are simply adhering to what has become an industry standard, while judges recognize campaign fundraising as a necessary evil. Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge John Foradora  said that “I don’t want to be involved in all this money raising and special interest stuff that’s put a cloud over the court. But I also don’t know how to get my message out without it.”

Furthermore, electing judges requires candidates to fundraise like members of the legislative or executive branches , but overlooks a crucial distinction between their roles: An elected legislator is generally elected to advance policy that is beneficial to constituents, including campaign donors. A judge does not have constituents. “We’re used to seeing money in the other races,” Marks told Velshi. “But judges are different. Judges make decisions solely on the facts of the law, not what they said on the campaign trail or what their contributors wanted.”

Marks argued that merit selection of judges would avoid many of the problems with judicial elections. Currently, twenty-three states choose some or all of their judges through merit selection. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, along with bipartisan legislative allies and a growing number of legal, civic, business and religious organizations are currently working to move House Bill 1336, a constitutional amendment changing the way we select appellate court judges through the legislature.  In House Bill 1336, appellate court judicial candidates are recommended for gubernatorial appointment by a bipartisan citizens’ nominating committee. After Senate confirmation and completing an initial, shortened term, judges are retained via a general election. Merit selection eliminates the need for campaign fundraising while honoring the democratic process. It frees judges from the requirements of fundraising and partisan politics and puts qualifications to the forefront of the judicial selection process. Most importantly, Marks said, “it puts fairness and impartiality at the center of the question.”




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Aug 05 2015

Special Interests Put This Fall’s Supreme Court Election on Track to be Most Expensive Ever

Political action committees (PACs) spent almost $1.4 million in this year’s primary election for Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That is almost double the next highest amount spent by PACs for the primaries in the last 15 years – just over $700,000 in 2007. This year’s spending figure is almost certain to exceed the previous spending record for Supreme Court elections, considering Pennsylvania is the only state electing any Supreme Court Justices this fall and is filling an extraordinary three of seven seats on the court. While this does not even mention the independent expenditures made on behalf of candidates, it does follow the nationwide trend of bigger spending by special interests in judicial elections.


In the recent US Supreme Court decision, Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, Chief Justice Roberts said that, while politicians are expected to be responsive to their supporters in a republican democracy, judges are expected to remain impartial no matter who comes before them. According to a 2013 poll, 87% of Americans believe that campaign contributions from lawyers, corporations and special interest groups have an influence on judicial decisions. This perception is pretty easy to understand when you consider the fact that the businesses and interest groups may have a matter before a judge whose campaign committee accepted their contributions or that attorneys may be litigating cases before judges to whom they have donated.


In case you are thinking that it is just lay observers who think that campaign contributions have an influence on judicial decisions, take it from recently retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille.


Discussing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co., which found that an elected West Virginia Supreme Court Justice should have recused himself from a case involving a coal magnate who had donated heavily to his campaign, Justice Castille said, “I guess we can say if you got $3 million out of $5 million and you don’t recuse yourself, we know that’s a violation of due process. But what happens between $1 and $2,999,999?”


“They [judicial campaign donors] are actually trying to buy a vote in their minds,” Justice Castille said more recently. “These people gave me a million dollars. I mean, wow, how do you get that out of your mind?”


We’re still in the calm before the coming storm of this fall’s election. However, it’s only a matter of time before an unprecedented amount of spending, much of it from attorneys and special interests, floods the campaign coffers of the Supreme Court candidates between now and November. This money, not to mention the independently funded negative ads that we are likely to suffer through while watching Eagles and Steelers games, will seriously damage Pennsylvanians’ confidence in their court system, which has recently been tested in some high profile ways. The best way to stem the flow of money on its way to PA is to stop electing our judges altogether and to implement a non-partisan system of merit selection to ensure that we have the best qualified judges, unburdened by the influences of special interests.

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Jul 14 2015

Former Governors Ridge and Rendell Reiterate Support for Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

Former Pennsylvania governors Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell have publicly reiterated their support for merit selection of statewide appellate judges. HB1336, which would amend the State Constitution to change the way we select statewide appellate judges in Pennsylvania from partisan elections to merit selection, was introduced last week by Reps. Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Dean (D., Montgomery).


Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican who served from 1995 to 2001, said, “State lawmakers must do what is right for out judicial system. We can’t allow time to slip by with a system that needs to be fixed.”


“A merit selection system with citizen participation will elevate the justice system in Pennsylvania and take it out of the political and fundraising environment,” Ed Rendell, a Democrat who held the office of Governor from 2003 until 2011, agreed. “I’ve been in favor of adopting this system since my days as district attorney of Philadelphia in 1978.”


Governors Ridge and Rendell aren’t the only former governors who support merit selection. In fact, all living governors – former and current – support this commonsense way to get partisan politics and campaign money out of judicial selection.


In 2013, Dick Thornburgh, a Republican who was Governor from 1979 to 1987, and George Leader, a Democrat who was Governor from 1955 to 1959, joined Ridge and Rendell in writing a letter to then-Governor Corbett and state legislators urging them to start the process for merit selection.


On a 2013 conference call organized by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Governor Thornburgh said, “Right now, there are no restrictions on funding for these positions when they come open and it puts a premium on how much you can raise and how much accompanying potential deference is owed to these donors.”


Mark Schweiker, who was Governor from 2001 until 2003 following Governor Ridge’s appointment as the first head of the Department of Homeland Security, and Governor Corbett, both Republicans, support merit selection as well.


Current Governor Tom Wolf also supports merit selection.


The convergence of a bipartisan group of governors – three Republicans and three Democrats – on the same side of an issue makes the nature of this proposal for merit selection clear. It is a commonsense reform that take politics and money out of judicial selection while ensuring that the most qualified candidates are chosen and that the people of Pennsylvania have a say in the process.

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Jun 22 2015

More Editorial Boards Call for Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

Several editorial boards from around Pennsylvania, including those of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Lehigh Valley Express-Times, have joined others in making the case for merit selection following the introduction of a bill to change the way we select statewide, appellate judges by State Reps. Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Dean (D., Montgomery).


“The election of appellate court judges is a three-ring circus that belittles the office, requires candidates to raise gobs of money from partisan sources, and is decided by voters with little knowledge about the candidates,” said the Express-Times editorial board. “The candidates are constrained in what they may discuss on the campaign trail, so they’re reduced, for the most part, to hand-shaking and fronting for the people who handle the campaign cash.”


“As a predictable result, what should be the most independent and impartial branch of government is brought low by corruption and clownishness,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Reading Eagle’s editorial board agrees, citing the resignation of former Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin as a result of her conviction on campaign related offenses as support for moving to merit selection.


In addition to editorials in the Inquirer, the Express-Times, and the Reading Eagle, the editorial boards of the Scranton Times-Tribune, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Shamokin News Item, and the Towanda Daily Review have all published statements of support for merit selection in the past week.


“By virtue of what they do, judges are supposed to be apolitical,” wrote the Scranton Times-Tribune. “Yet Pennsylvania requires them to seek office through a political process that requires them to ally with politicians and raise campaign money, which often comes from people with business before the courts.


Each of the editorials urged legislators to take the necessary next steps towards this commonsense reform and lamented the inertia that plagues Harrisburg on the issue of merit selection.


“For stories of eternal return set in the Keystone State, Groundhog Day has nothing on the debate over replacing judicial elections with an appointment process known as merit selection,” citing its decades-long support for merit selection, the Inquirer’s editorial board said. “Merit selection has never prevailed in Harrisburg because the seemingly anodyne issue fails to exercise the public. But it should. Low-interest judicial elections, dominated by political parties, moneyed interests, and sheer chance, have ceded Pennsylvania’s judiciary to the same forces that run roughshod over the rest of the government.”


The Philadelphia Daily News and the Harrisburg Patriot News have also published editorials supporting merit selection of state appellate judges.

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Jun 17 2015

Editorial Boards Support Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has been working for years – no, make that decades – to change the way we select judges in Pennsylvania based upon the common-sense idea that electing people we do not know, financed by special interests that often conceal their true identities, isn’t democracy in action, but a failed system.” – The Philadelphia Daily News Editorial Board


Editorial boards from Philadelphia and Harrisburg support the constitutional amendment seeking to reform the way that judges in Pennsylvania’s statewide appellate courts are chosen. The bill, introduced by State Reps. Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Madeleine Dean (D., Montgomery), proposes a system of merit selection.


Merit selection is a four-step process in which the Governor appoints Pennsylvania’s judges to the Supreme Court, the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court, choosing his or her choice from a list of recommended candidates put together by a bipartisan commission that evaluates each applicant’s qualifications for holding judicial office. After the Governor makes his or her nomination, the candidate chosen would still have to be confirmed by the Senate. Judges would face a retention vote after four years on the bench, in which voters would be able to say yes or no to the judge’s performance and another one every ten years.


The nominating commission tasked with evaluating judicial applicants will be made up of 13 people from around the Commonwealth, some lawyers and some not. They will be appointed by elected leaders from both parties – the Governor and the Majority and Minority Leaders from both houses in the General Assembly – and must include members of both parties.


Merit selection would replace our current system of choosing appellate judges – expensive, partisan elections that erode the public’s confidence in a fair and qualified state judiciary. Partisan elections at least invite the perception that Pennsylvania’s most powerful judges are influenced by campaign donations and advertisements paid for by special interests.


The PennLive Editorial Board wrote that this proposal “would eliminate the unseemly fundraising and campaigning that judicial candidates now have to endure. Candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, need millions just to run – millions that too often come from special interest groups and those with skin in the judicial game.”


These elections also invite the perception that people other than the most qualified candidates are elected. Voters rarely know much about the qualifications to be judge of those running for judicial office – “the electoral equivalent of question marks” according to the Philadelphia Daily News Editorial Board. The Daily News said that this lack of knowledge will tempt many people to vote based only on party affiliation, increasing partisanship in the judiciary. The lack of information also creates a space for special interests to influence the election in favor of a candidate in line with its stance on an issue by producing advertisements that can paint extreme or misleading pictures of other candidates. Additionally, the rigorous and expensive process of running a statewide election campaign may prevent some highly qualified candidates from entering their names.


“Why is this system better than the one we have now?” asks the Daily News Editorial Board. “It takes money out of the equation. It assures that only qualified candidates get on the list sent to the governor. It will end the ‘Who the heck are these people?’ reaction of voters who see the names on the ballot.”


The PennLive Editorial Board agrees: “It would ensure qualified candidates serve on our appellate courts. It would include the say of private citizens, members of the Legislature, the governor and, ultimately, all Pennsylvanians. It would eliminate the unseemly fundraising and campaigning that judicial candidates now have to endure. It would not eliminate the voice of the voter in determining who serves on the courts.”

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May 26 2015

More Money, More Problems for the Judiciary


“In too many states, judicial elections are becoming political prizefights where partisans and special interests seek to install judges who will answer to them instead of the law and the Constitution.” – Sandra Day O’Connor, former United States Supreme Court Justice


Last Tuesday, at the time of the primary in Pennsylvania, campaign fundraising for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race had already surpassed $5 million.  The leading fundraiser, Judge Kevin Dougherty of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, has raised nearly $1.5 million alone, and spent over $1 million on television advertising.  At this point in the 2009 race for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, no candidate had raised more than $250,000. This year, six out of twelve candidates raised at least that much.


Advertisements on broadcast television alone (not including cable television or radio) totaled over $2.4 million as of May 15thaccording to the FCC.  Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a national partner group of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said “The spectacle of so much spending, on top of recent scandals affecting the Court, ought to put insulating judges from money and political pressure at the top of Pennsylvania’s agenda.”


More and more, judges and their campaigns are raising money from individuals who may appear before them in court, including plaintiff’s lawyers or business interests.  Outside spending by special interest groups in judicial elections is on the rise since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.


When the United States Supreme Court recently upheld Florida’s ban on direct solicitation of campaign donations by judges and judicial candidates, it recognized that public confidence in the judiciary was at stake.  Even if donated funds do not actually result in favoritism towards the donor in the courtroom, the mere perception of this risk harms public faith in our judiciary.  A 2013 Brennan Center poll found that 87% of votersbelieve that spending in judicial elections has either “some” or “a great deal” of influence over judges’ decisions.


Like Florida, Pennsylvania bans judges from directly soliciting campaign contributions during an election cycle.  However, judges are free to set up campaign committees that fundraise on their behalf.  In a judicial election, voters typically don’t know much about the individuals on the ballot.  This requires candidates to raise and spend large amounts of money to increase their public profile.  But a judge, tasked with impartially upholding the law based on the facts of each case, should be free from the political pressures of fundraising and from any partisan influences.


This fall, there are an unprecedented three Supreme Court seats on the line in Pennsylvania, as well as seats on the statewide Superior and Commonwealth Courts and a number of county-wide and court races.  As November approaches, one can expect millions more in fundraising, negative and partisan attack ads, increased outside and special interest group participation, and constant pressure on lawyers to donate to the candidates running.  (In the Supreme Court race, lawyers are reporting a pressure to donate to the candidates.  This is because all six candidates are current judges, and they will still be on the bench somewhere in the state, even if they lose).  In addition, there will be pressure on those judges elected to reconcile how they will address the perception of bias that arises when campaign donors appear in front of them in the courtroom.


Many of the candidates in the 2015 primary for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court would likely be excellent nominations in a merit selection system.  However, when these same individuals are forced to act like politicians by soliciting campaign donations through their committees, advertising, and seeking out party endorsements to increase their odds of being elected, it undermines the judge’s role as impartial arbiter in our Constitutional system.


Right now in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, there is a bipartisan bill to begin the process of amending the state constitution to implement a hybrid selection of appointment and retention election of judges.  Pennsylvania should get money out of the judicial selection arena.  The best way to do this is to implement a non-partisan merit selection system to ensure there are qualified and diverse individuals on the bench, free from the political pressures of a politician.

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May 20 2015

What High Campaign Fundraising Totals Mean for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Race

Even before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court primary on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, fundraising totals for the 12 candidates for three open seats has soared into the millions—nearly $5 million raised according to the latest campaign finance reports from the Pennsylvania Department of State, with $2.3 million already spent. A recent article in the Legal Intelligencer notes that by May 2007 in that year’s Supreme Court election, with seven candidates vying for two seats, $2.2 million had been raised, less than the total already spent in this year’s race. While the comparison is not perfect, double the money is in play in this year’s election and the stakes are enormous with more than 40% of the seven-seat court up for grabs. As of the time of the latest campaign finance report, more had been raised for the Supreme Court election than for the Philadelphia Mayor’s race (not including, of course, any independent expenditures).

Television ad spending has also blossomed in the Supreme Court primaries to the tune of $2.4 million as of May 15, 2015, according to Federal Communications Commissions records analyzed by Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. The funds that make this possible typically originate from constituencies with specific business before the court, including lawyers, law firms, and special interests. The Legal Intelligencer found in analyzing this year’s Supreme Court contributions that the most substantial donations, “… have come from lawyers, unions, and lawyer-funded political action committees.” These groups then have tremendous influence in the primary, where voter education about the candidates is often low and may be informed by a brief TV ad.

What this shows is booming political action surrounding judicial elections and the need for judicial candidates, expected to be fair and impartial arbiters of the law, to act as fundraisers. This feeds public perceptions of mistrust in the judiciary as candidates are seen as beholden to the interests that fund their campaigns. A recent report on Al Jazeera America delves into the issue, including analysis of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election and candidates’ need to seek funds and endorsements from groups that may come before the court. This mistrust has been further exacerbated by judicial scandals reaching the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, resulting in two of the current court vacancies.

To restore public trust in the judiciary, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court specifically, a different approach from partisan elections is required. While not perfect, merit selection offers the best hope for a judiciary that Pennsylvanians will see as impartial, fair, and removed from campaign funds. Merit selection would replace partisan elections for Pennsylvania’s appellate judges with a hybrid appointive and elective system dedicated to identifying and advancing highly qualified candidates to the bench, without the inherent problems of partisan judicial elections.

An amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution addressing merit selection is expected to be introduced in the near future.

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May 15 2015

TV Ad Bookings Soar to $ 2.4 Million in Pennsylvania Supreme Court Primary

Published by under Judicial Elections

Washington, D.C., May 15 – Pennsylvania Supreme Court primary candidates are airing a barrage of last-minute television advertising, pushing broadcast TV ad buy totals up to at least $2.4 million as of May 15, according to Federal Communications Commission records analyzed by Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. This represents almost $1 million in new ad buys in three days.

Seven of the 12 candidates running in the primary are running television ads, which can be seen on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website. The ads continue to focus on themes of ethics and candidate qualifications, with no advertising purchased to date by interest groups or political parties.

“Unfortunately, it looks like Pennsylvanians could be heading for an historically costly battle over three Supreme Court seats,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates for fair courts. “The TV ad dollars are multiplying literally overnight, and this is just for the primary. The spectacle of so much spending, on top of recent scandals affecting the Court, ought to put insulating judges from money and political pressure at the top of Pennsylvania’s agenda.”

“The recent upswing in spending raises concerns about fundraising pressure on judicial candidates,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Historically lawyers, law firms, and special interests have been major contributors to Pennsylvania judicial candidates, raising concerns about how fundraising may impact judges’ decisions on the bench. We need stronger protections to insulate judges from the appearance of bias.”

“This is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we’ll likely see before the race ends in November,” commented Lynn Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “The real problem is that the money for all this advertising is flowing into campaign coffers from the same lawyers, law firms and special interests that could someday appear before these judges in court.  Just seeing this amount of spending should make Pennsylvanians stop and think about whether there isn’t a better way to choose our judges.”

The Democratic primary continues to see the highest ad spending. Judge Kevin Dougherty has now booked contracts totaling at least $1 million according to FCC files. Judge David Wecht has booked TV contracts worth nearly $440,000, while Judge John Foradora has booked TV contracts worth at least $200,000. Judge Anne Lazarus has booked ad contracts totaling over $200,000 as well. Judges Dwayne Woodruff and Christine Donohue have not booked any TV ads to date.

Republican candidates have increased their TV ad spending, but to a lesser extent. Judge Anne Covey has now booked contracts worth nearly $140,000. Judges Judy Olson and Michael George have jointly booked ad contracts worth at least $170,000. In addition, George has booked separate contracts worth nearly $200,000, and Olson has booked separate contracts worth at least $30,000. No ad contracts have been logged to date for Justice Correale Stevens, Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen, or Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren, the remaining Republicans in the race.

Pennsylvania has a history of high-cost judicial elections, but with an unprecedented three seats open this year, this race has the potential to break state spending records. The ideological balance of the court also hangs in the balance. The highest TV spending totals in a Supreme Court election in the state occurred back in 2007, when they reached $4.6 million for the year (with two open seats and one retention election).

Please note: Totals include broadcast television contracts publicly available from FCC files only. Additional spending for radio or cable television advertising is not included.


Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners educate the public, and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom – so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the rule of law. For more about Justice at Stake, go to or

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to ensure that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts for justice with confidence that the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges will preside over their cases. For more information, visit

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice.  Its work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to presidential power in the fight against terrorism. A singular institution — part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group — the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector.  For more information about the Brennan Center, go to

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May 06 2015

Some Final Thoughts

Published by under Merit Selection

As my fellowship with PMC comes to an end, I’d like to take some time to reflect on my experiences here and to write about some of what I’ve learned as a legal fellow. When I first started at PMC in December 2014, I knew very little about how judges were selected in PA. I knew that I was interested in access to justice issues, and that is what drew me to PMC. Now, after leaving PMC, I can say that the system for electing judges in PA is fairly terrifying. Having closely followed the upcoming PA Supreme Court race, I find the amount of money already raised by the candidates to be pretty appalling (more than one candidate having already raised over $500,000 – aren’t there better things people could be spending that money on?).

I am also pretty astounded that even though each of the PA Supreme Court candidates will admit that money in judicial campaigns are problematic – none will admit that judicial elections themselves are the problem. All of them claim to support judicial elections, even though they confess that the money prevents good candidates from running, lowers public faith in an impartial judiciary, and more. But without judicial elections the money problems go away – with them, they just keep getting worse (especially post-Citizens United). So why are all the judicial candidates so afraid to say change is needed?

In general, I am concerned about the voiceless. I am concerned that the people who are contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to judicial campaigns are the only ones being heard. That judges have white, wealthy donors in the back of their minds when they are making decisions. That outside special interest groups have hijacked judicial elections and in turn the average Pennsylvanian is being ignored. I am concerned that judges may have trouble being entirely impartial when a party in front of them donated large sums to their campaign. This is all very troubling to me.

Perhaps what I found most disturbing through my time at PMC was the correlation between judges issuing harsher sentences against criminal defendants during an election year. That so-called “attack ads” that accuse judges of being “too soft on crime” may legitimately impact how judges rule in criminal cases. It is pretty horrifying that citizens of our state may not be getting a fair shake in court – may be receiving longer prison sentences – solely because judges are afraid of judicial “attack ads” that may affect their future careers as judges.

Despite all of the problems with judicial elections that I have encountered during my short time here, the issue seems to be largely ignored by the mainstream media. Like I said, I knew barely anything about this before I started here. We need to educate the public about these major flaws with our current system. Anyone who ever has to appear in front of a judge for any reason should be concerned that the judge may not be able to be impartial because of a campaign contribution, or a television ad.

I am grateful for my short time here at PMC. I am grateful that my eyes have been opened to these issues. Judicial elections are a huge problem. While merit selection may not be perfect (no system is), it is the best we can do. I am really hoping that the proposed merit selection bill makes it through the PA House and Senate this time around and is put to a vote by the people. And I am hoping that the people can access the right information and do the right thing and choose merit selection. Judges and their decisions are too important, there is simply too much at stake, for things to continue on as they have been.

Huge thanks to Lynn Marks and Suzanne Almeida for hosting me these past several months. It’s been awesome!

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May 04 2015

As More Money Flows into Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Race, It’s Time for Merit Selection

Candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have already raised at least $2 million in campaign contributions this year.  Many predict that this is only a small fraction of the total amount of money that will be raised in the 2015 Supreme Court election.  Three seats are up for grabs in this year’s election setting up  an extremely competitive and very expensive election in Pennsylvania.

In 2009, an election for a single seat on the Supreme Court came with a $4.7 million price tag.  If recent elections for judges in other states are a reliable indicator, the price on the 2015 PA Supreme Court election will likely be exponentially higher.  As reported by Mother Jones magazine statewide judicial candidates across the country collected $110 million in 2012.

Pennsylvanians are rightly concerned about the impact of money in judicial elections. Regardless of whether it’s true, members of the public tend to think that contributions to judicial candidates directly impact the judge’s decision-making. This is unacceptable. As the Pennsylvania courts try to rebound from several scandals, expensive judicial campaigns could further lower the public’s opinion of a judicial system, Lynn Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts said.

Making matters worse, the majority of contributors to judicial elections are trial attorneys or special interests with cases that could likely come before the high court, Marks continued.  “There is just something wrong with a system that practically requires judges and judicial candidates to seek contributions and endorsements from people who could be before them,” she said.  “I’m not saying that judges are making decisions based on who gives the money, but that’s the perception that the public has.”  Marks expects that many law firms will donate to multiple candidates so as to ensure their contributions reach a candidate that will end up on the bench.

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