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Archive for May, 2008

May 30 2008

Tell House Judiciary Committee Members We Want a Hearing!

Published by under Merit Selection News

Calling all supporters of Merit Selection: We need your help!

As you know, changing the way Pennsylvania selects its appellate judges is a lengthy process. Right now, to keep moving forward, HB 2488 needs to be heard in the Judiciary Committee.

Please contact the members of the House Judiciary Committee. Ask them for a hearing on HB 2488, and ask them to support Merit Selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania so that Pennsylvanians will have the opportunity to vote on this important subject in a constitutional referendum.

The members of the House Judiciary Committee are listed below. Click on the their names to obtain their contact information.


fdocs/legis/home/member_information/house_bio.cfm?id=1048″>Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Allegheny

  • Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware
  • Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Allegheny
  • Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny
  • Rep. Jewell Williams, D-Philadelphia
  • Minority

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    May 30 2008

    Setting the Philadelphia Public Record Straight

    In their May 15th cover story about the effort to bring Merit Selection of appellate judges to Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Public Record rehashed the old argument that Merit Selection supporters are conspiring to take away the right to vote for appellate judges. In an effort to set the Record straight

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    , we wrote a letter to its editor. It was published in the May 29th edition, and is available online. As intern K.O. Myers explained, “Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to select appellate judges, but the voters of Pennsylvania should have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. That’s all we’re asking for.”

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    May 29 2008

    West Virginia: The Scandal Continues

    Published by under Judges,News

    The problems caused in West Virginia by one company’s contributions to judicial election campaigns continue to plague the state. Now, even though one of the Justices involved lost his reelection bid, there is an effort to have a case involving that contributor reexamined, with a focus on whether another Justice should have recused from the case. Theodore B. Olson, former solicitor general of the United States and private counsel to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, will spearhead efforts to get the issue before the United States Supreme Court.

    In a press release announcing his involvement with the case,

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    Mr. Olson succinctly sums up the crisis of public confidence created by partisan judicial elections:

    The improper appearance created by money in judicial elections is one of the most important issues facing our judicial system today. A line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge.

    We think the best solution to the problem is to get appellate judges out of the fundraising business altogether. The way to do this is Merit Selection.

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    May 28 2008

    Merit Selection Preserves Democratic Values

    Merit Selection of appellate judges isn’t a partisan issue. Groups that care about good government and unbiased justice, from business groups like the Pennsylvania Business Council and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association to civic groups like Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union, support Merit Selection as the best way to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary for all citizens.

    Despite this consensus from a wide spectrum of viewpoints, critics continue to insist that the campaign to bring Merit Selection of appellate judges to Pennsylvania is politically motivated. Working through the democratic process to give Pennsylvania voters the chance to choose a method of judicial selection gets unfairly portrayed as an attempt to undermine democracy.

    To get at the truth, let’s take a broader view of judicial selection. In the midst of this year’s bitterly contentious race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Wisconsin State Journal wrote an editorial urging the state to viagra online without prescription

    =”_blank”>replace partisan election of its high court justices with a Merit Selection system. This insightful examination of increasingly partisan, expensive judicial elections prompting calls for reform illuminates how Merit Selection safeguards the rights of citizens.

    Judges — especially supreme court judges — are supposed to check the majority ‘s power to trample on the minority ‘s rights. Judges do that by remaining impartial and true to the law, rather than bending to the prevailing political winds. When judges are elected in big-money contests in which partisan sides back judges partial to their politics, the system of checks and balances is upset. That’s undemocratic.

    Bringing Merit Selection to Pennsylvania’s appellate courts requires that the citizens of Pennsylvania vote for it. If that happens, we will gain a judicial selection system immune to the influence of campaign fundraising. The power of deep-pocket donors will be replaced with a system that provides justice free from the taint of campaign donations. We’ll have a fair, impartial judiciary, able to decide every case without concern for raising campaign funds.

    What could be more democratic than that?

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    May 25 2008

    Calls for Diversity On The Appellate Bench

    Published by under Judges,Our Perspective

    Now that the Pennsylvania Senate has officially rejected Governor Rendell’s nominations to fill four vacant appellate judgeships, calls are coming for increased diversity among the judges on the appellate bench. Senate Republicans cited lack of diversity in the nominees as one reason why they rejected the slate. The Black Legislative Caucus is calling on the Governor to nominate Black and Latino candidates to fill the seats.

    Supporters of Merit Selection are keenly aware of the lack of diversity on the appellate courts in Pennsylvania. Of 31 judges on the three statewide courts, only two are judges of color (one on Superior Court and one on Commonwealth Court). No minorities sit on the Supreme Court. Only one African American has ever been elected to the Supreme Court, and there have been no justices or

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    appellate judges of Hispanic or Asian descent.

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    In addition, historically most appellate judges have come from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. This stems in large part from the difficulty in running a statewide campaign and the need for broad support from big population centers. Although county of residence is essentially irrelevant to one’s qualifications to serve as an appellate judge, it has been an important predictor of electoral success.

    A diverse judiciary is good for the state, and it’s good for justice. Pennsylvanians can feel confident that their viewpoints will be fairly considered when the judiciary includes judges who come from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the Commonwealth and who bring many different experiences to the bench. Merit Selection — which offers pathways to the appellate bench for qualified jurists from a variety of areas and backgrounds — can help Pennsylvania achieve this.

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    May 23 2008

    Merit Selection Opponents Sing Same Old Song

    Published by under Merit Selection,Opinion,Our Perspective

    It’s interesting how Merit Selection opponents trot out the same tired arguments every time there seems to be some progress in the effort to let the people weigh in on the question of how we should choose appellate judges. Dan Pero, over at American Courthouse, echoes these same refrains in his most recent post about Pennsylvania.

    Let’s set the record straight. Merit Selection supporters trust the voters to make important decisions. That’s why we want the legislature to give them the opportunity to decide whether or not to change the way we pick appellate court judges.

    It’s been 40 years since this issue went before the people. In that time, elections have become increasingly expensive and partisan. Public confidence in the

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    judiciary has declined drastically. We know this is in large part related to the money, which leads us back to the question; why do we choose judges this way?

    So, we’re ready to let the people tell us what they think. Merit Selection opponents, however, never want it to get that far. In their minds, the people had a chance 40 years ago and now they’re stuck with it. Who’s afraid to give the people a voice?

    We want to use the democratic process to decide a critical question about our system of government. Why are Merit Selection opponents so afraid of that? Is it that they know Merit Selection is a better way to select judges and that the people, if given a chance, would want to try it? That’s the only logical explanation for their unwillingness to let the democratic process take its course.

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    May 21 2008

    This Campaign is About the Process

    Published by under Judges,Merit Selection,Opinion

    The campaign for Merit Selection is an effort to bring to Pennsylvania a better process for selecting appellate court judges. It is not about the judges currently serving on the appellate courts.

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    Pennsylvania has many qualified, skilled, experienced and fair appellate judges. But they reached the bench despite the electoral process, not because of it. We’d get a lot more good judges under Merit Selection, which is designed to bring such people to the bench.

    Sometimes the electoral process produces good, capable judges, and sometimes it produces the best fundraisers and campaigners, who may not be the best judges. Pennsylvania deserves a system that is designed to g

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    et the best judges on the appellate courts.

    Elections are the best way to select presidents, governors, mayors, senators, and representatives — public officials who represent specific constituencies and advocate for identified policies. Judges have a different role — they are sworn to evenhandedly apply the law, without regard to personal preference, political pressure, popular will, or promises made to voters or campaign donors. Pennsylvania needs a system of selecting judges that respects this difference.

    This campaign is not about the judges currently sitting on our appellate courts; it’s about the process that brought them there. Merit Selection is a better way.

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    May 20 2008

    Talk About Merit Selection on Live TV Tonight

    Published by under Merit Selection News

    Tonight PMC/PMCAction Executive Director Lynn Marks will appear on PCN’s Call In Program. The show airs live from 7:00-8:00pm . The program will focus on judici

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    al elections and Merit Selection, and viewers can call toll-free, 1-877-PA6-5001 (1-877-726-5001) to join the discussion. Also appearing will be Barry Kauffman of Common Cause PA and Russ Diamond of PA Cleansweep.

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    May 19 2008

    Merit Selection On the Airwaves

    Published by under Judges,Merit Selection News,Our Perspective

    This week, you can listen to both PMC Chair Bob Heim and PMC/PMCAction Associate Director Shira Goodman talk about Merit Selection with members of the Commonwealth Foundation. You can watch a video of Heim ‘s presentation to the Commonwealth Foundation’

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    s Policy and Principles lunch on May 14. And you can listen to Goodman discussing Merit Selection with Matt Brouillette on his radio program The Box, which aired May 17.

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    More information on pending legislation can be found here.

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    May 16 2008

    Why the Interim Appointment Process Didn't Work

    Published by under Judges,Merit Selection,News,Opinion

    When there’s an interim or midterm vacancy on any court in Pennsylvania, it is filled by the Governor making a nomination that is subject to Senate confirmation. Usually for appellate seats, the nominee agrees not to run in the next judicial election for a full term on the court and, therefore, sits on the bench for a short period of time.

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    This is because the interim appointment process is actually part of the electoral system and is designed to keep either political party from gaining too great an advantage in the next election. Thus, good candidates must promise not to run in the future, lest they get an unfair advantage of running while already a member of an appellate court.

    There currently are four vacancies on the appellate courts — 2 on the Supreme Court and one each on the Superior and Commonwealth Courts. This week, the Governor’s nominees for those vacancies were all rejected by the Senate.

    According to news reports, the Governor and Senate leaders met to discuss possible candidates for the vacancies, but the ultimate slate of nominees did not include individuals favored by the Senate leadership. As a result, after several mo

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    nths, the Senate voted all four nominees down, without even holding hearings.

    So, we’re still left with four vacancies on the appellate courts, and the vacancy on the Supreme Court has the added problem of leaving a six member court that could result in 3-3 decisions. By the time the politicians meet again, new nominations are made, hearings are held and votes are taken, the new judges might have less than a year to serve.

    If we had a Merit Selection system in place, these vacancies would be filled through the process involving screening by an independent citizens nominating commission, nomination by the Governor, and confirmation by the Senate. After four years on the bench, the judges would stand before the public in a retention election. Good judges would have the opportunity to stay on the bench for a full ten-year term. Judges the public is dissatisfied with would be removed, and the process would begin again to fill the vacancies.

    Merit Selection is designed to get the most qualified judges on the bench in an expedient manner. It’s not designed to position political parties for upcoming elections. That’s why Merit Selection works.

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