Archive for April, 2008

Apr 30 2008

Politicians or Professionals

We’ve just been reading a 2007 article by three law professors comparing elected judges to appointed judges. The professors — Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati and Eric A. Posner — studied three areas — effort, skill and independence. The independence issue grabbed our attention for two reasons. First, we care about judicial independence and its relation to how judges are picked. Second, this part of the study was completely misrepresented by American Courthouse in a post against Merit Selection.

Here’s the cliffnotes version of the study. First, the authors’ definition of independence was itself unusual; they defined and measured “independence” as the frequency with which a judge dissented from opinions authored by a judge of the same political party. Second, the authors concluded that there was no statistically significant difference in this type of independence between elected and appointed judges.

So, why is this study important? Because of how the authors interpreted the results:

“It might be that the different systems [of selection] attract different types of people to judgeships. . . . In particular, electoral systems would seem to attract politicians, while appointment systems are more likely to attract professionals. “

According to the authors, elected judges are “more politically involved, more locally connected, more temporary, and less well-educated than appointed judges. They are more like politicians and less like professionals.”

So, who do we want on the bench, politicians or professionals? If I’m going to court, I want a professional.

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Apr 29 2008

Call For Constitutional Reform in PA Includes Merit Selection

On Sunday, the Centre Daily Times called for Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider a constitutional convention. the Times says that “it is time to start over. It is time to recraft the document by which we govern ourselves, a document that has changed little in more than a century and a quarter.”

Although we’re hoping there will be a stand alone amendment to address Merit Selection for the appellate courts, we’re glad to see that the Times included Merit Selection of appellate judges in its list of necessary reforms.

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Apr 28 2008

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Published by under Our Perspective

In a letter to the editor published in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCA Executive Director Lynn Marks explains how Merit Selection of appellate judges differs from the interim judicial appointments currently stalled in the state Senate.

Opponents of Merit Selection like to argue that the struggle over Governor Rendell’s nominations somehow makes Merit Selection impractical or unworkable. In reality, the two systems are very different, and problems with the interim appointment process don’t undermine the value of Merit Selection.

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Apr 27 2008

Overheard at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference

Published by under Merit Selection News

Yesterday, PMC Associate Director Shira Goodman made a presentation about Merit Selection to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Goodman spoke on a panel dedicated to The Future of Reform in Pennsylvania and opened her remarks by saying “I’m here to talk to you about why we believe it’s time for Pennsylvanians to decide how they want to pick their appellate judges.” The presentation about the benefits of Merit Selection was well-received, and is being broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

You can find more coverage on the conference in Philadelphia’s The Bulletin newspaper.

UPDATE: Videos of the conference speakers and panels are now available.

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Apr 26 2008

What Opponents of Merit Selection Get Wrong

In an op-ed in the Daily News, Merit Selection opponent Gerald McOscar reiterates some common misconceptions about Merit Selection. We thought we should answer his questions and correct his inaccuracies.

Let’s start with his primary question, why Merit Selection for judges but not for other public officials. First, to be clear, the current legislative proposals would implement Merit Selection only for the three appellate courts. Elections to these courts require judges to run statewide.

Second, judges are different from other public officials. Judges are sworn to act impartially and faithfully uphold and apply the law, regardless of personal preference, political pressure, popular opinion and the desires of campaign contributors.

Other officials, like governors, senators, representatives and mayors are not subject to such limitations. Instead, they represent constituencies, make promises in order to win votes, and are held accountable for whether they live up to those promises. People donate to the campaigns of these officials because they agree with their agendas and expect them to carry out those agendas once in office.

By contrast, judges cannot promise to rule a certain way once they reach the bench. But they still need to raise lots of money to run statewide campaigns. Who contributes to such campaigns? The bulk of the donations come from lawyers, lawfirms and other organizations that frequently appear before the state courts as counsel or parties.

No one should have to worry whether the opposing party or counsel in court contributed to the presiding judge. But in a system that requires judges to raise lots of money to run in statewide partisan elections, people do worry about this. Merit Selection gets judges out of the fundraising business and lets judges be judges, not campaigners and fundraisers.

Next, Mr. McOscar seems not to understand that changing to a Merit Selection system for the appellate courts involves amending the constitution. It’s not something the governor or the legislature can do of their own accord. In fact, the Governor does not even have a role in the amendment process. The legislature must pass the same constitutional amendment in two successive sessions and then the people must vote for it in a referendum. The system can only change if the people of Pennsylvania vote for a change.

And that brings us to his third question, why has it taken so long to bring this reform to Pennsylvania? Because opponents of Merit Selection are afraid to let the voters decide for themselves the best way to pick appellate court judges. That’s why this issue hasn’t gone before the people in 40 years.

Supporters of Merit Selection trust the voters to make this decision. But opponents haven’t given the voters this chance. What are you so afraid of, Mr. McOscar?

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Apr 25 2008

Another Blow to Judicial Elections

In today’s editorial about a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice’s recent remarks from the bench during a case involving the death penalty, the Philadelphia Inquirer takes a swing at judicial elections: “This case illustrates. . . how electing judges isn’t the best way to gauge their temperament for the job.” Although the editorial did not discuss either the electoral process or Merit Selection in any detail, its concluding words, identifying a big problem with judicial elections, pack a powerful punch.

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Apr 25 2008

Clearing Things Up — This is Just About the Appellate Courts

Published by under Merit Selection

Yesterday’s Metro featured an article about the effort to bring Merit Selection to Pennsylvania. While the article identified some of the problems of judicial elections and some of the benefits of Merit Selection, it mistakenly implied that the current Merit Selection legislation would affect all courts in Pennsylvania. The fact is, we are working for Merit Selection of the three statewide appellate courts only.

There are three appellate courts in Pennsylvania — the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts. There are 31 appellate judges, out of a total of 1,048 judges in Pennsylvania.

The problems with judicial elections — the lack of emphasis on candidates’ qualifications, the huge sums of money raised from parties likely to appear before the judges in the future, and the lack of opportunities for qualified candidates of all backgrounds — are more pronounced at the level of the appellate courts.

As a result, the current reform effort is focused on changing the way we select this part of the judiciary. The trial courts, including the Courts of Common Pleas, Municipal Courts, Magisterial District Judge Courts, and Traffic Courts, would not be affected.

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Apr 23 2008

Exposing Myths About Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

As the campaign for Merit Selection progresses, we hear some inaccurate arguments repeated by those who oppose Merit Selection. In an effort to set the record straight, we’ll reveal the truth and clear up these myths.

Myth #4 Merit Selection is Just Like the Federal System for Selecting Judges

The federal system of selecting judges is a pure appointment system. Although many qualified judges reach the bench this way, the federal system isn’t Merit Selection.

First of all, under the federal system, the president can appoint anyone of his/her choosing. That nominee is then subject to Senate confirmation, and will serve for life or good behavior.

Absent from this system is a key piece of Merit Selection: the constitutionally-mandated role of the nominating commission, a nonpartisan citizen-based commission charged with evaluating candidates for the appellate courts.

Under Merit Selection, the Governor is required to make a nomination from the commission’s list of highly qualified candidates. No such requirement exists in the federal system. Although Pennsylvania has a bi-partisan nominating commission to advise our United States Senators on possible federal court appointments, its recommendations are not binding on the president.

Merit Selection also provides that following a brief term on the bench, a judge would stand before the public in a nonpartisan, yes/no retention election. The federal system doesn’t have any sort of retention election; once confirmed, federal judges serve for life or good behavior.

Keep visiting JudgesOnMerit.org to learn the truth about Merit Selection.

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Apr 22 2008

Missouri House Protects Judicial Selection From Partisan Politics

On April 17th, the Missouri state House rejected an effort to radically revise the state’s “Missouri Plan,” which has served as a model for Merit Selection of judges in 30 other states. Proposed changes to the plan would have eliminated the nonpartisan nomination commission, and replaced it with a system controlled entirely by the governor and state legislators.

A broad coalition of community groups, lead by Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, made it clear to the legislature that the voters of Missouri didn’t want to politicize judicial selection. The state House clearly got the message, and decisively defeated the proposed changes.

The vote caps the most recent skirmish in a long fight to protect Missouri’s Merit Selection system from efforts to make its process more political. We’re glad that the people and legislators of Missouri recognize that nonpartisan, nonpolitical judicial selection is an important part of a fair and impartial justice system.

via Gavel Grab

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Apr 21 2008

Exposing Myths About Merit Selection

Published by under Merit Selection

As the campaign for Merit Selection progresses, we hear some inaccurate arguments repeated by those who oppose Merit Selection. In an effort to set the record straight, we’ll reveal the truth and clear up these myths.

Myth #3 Merit Selection is Just Like the Process We Use to Fill Interim Court Vacancies

The interim appointment process — how vacancies are filled on courts between elections — is part and parcel of the electoral process. It is nothing like Merit Selection.

Currently, we have four vacancies on our appellate courts — one on the Supreme Court, one on the Commonwealth Court and two on the Superior Court. Filling these vacancies requires nomination by the Governor and confirmation by the Senate. And one more thing — a promise by the candidates not to run for full terms on these courts in the next elections. This is because the process is designed to prevent one political party from getting an advantage over the other in the next election. It’s not designed to get the most qualified people on the bench as quickly as possible.

The interim appointment process does not require screening by an independent citizens nominating commission. Merit Selection does. The interim appointment process does not give the people an opportunity to evaluate how a judge did during an initial term. Merit Selection gives the people this chance through the retention process.

The interim appointment process is inextricably tied to the electoral system. Merit Selection is a different way of picking appellate court judges.

Keep visiting JudgesOnMerit.org to learn the truth about Merit Selection.

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