Jun 26 2009
In the wake of the Caperton decision, WHYY’s Chris Satullo criticizes Pennsylvania’s judicial election system:
Here’s what electing judges does. It forces them to beg campaign cash from the very people who would appear before them in court. It forces voters to choose from clogged slates of unknown names. Not surprisingly, those voters fall back on dumb factors such as ballot position, ethnic surnames and who bought the most TV ads.
Judicial elections have become costly showdowns between corporate and union lobbies, with clueless voters in the crossfire.
Satullo concedes Merit Selection is preferable, but he also seeks a way to improve judicial elections. His proposal is to use a Merit Selection commission to preclear candidates, and only those deemed qualified would then be eligible to run for election. In addition to publicizing the commission’s findings, Satullo would require that the candidates’ campaign donors also be made public.
Satullo’s proposal may help ensure that only qualified candidates reach the bench and that the public knows more about the candidates running, but it does not solve the problems caused when money and judicial campaigns mix. Candidates would still need to raise money, and much of the money would still come from lawyers and entities that appear frequently in the state courts. Satullo’s requirement that donors be publicly identified does not solve the problem: that information is publicly available now and its availability is not reducing the public’s perception that campaign contributions may have an unacceptable influence on later judicial decision-making.
We agree with Satullo that change is needed, but we find Merit Selection, a hybrid combining the best parts of appointment and elective systems and adding the first-level citizens-based screening commission, is the better solution. As Satullo says: “It’s a hybrid. And, as everybody knows, hybrids run cleaner and offer better mileage.”Tags: Caperton, Chris Satullo, judicial elections, Merit Selection, WHYY