Jun 22 2015
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.”