Oct 30 2009
Wait, did we say partisan judges? Isn’t the very term antithetical to the core principle of independent judges and an independent judiciary? Of course it is. But partisan judges are the necessary outcome of our current judicial election system because they are nominated by parties and run on party labels.
A column by Eric Heyl in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review gives the chronology of the recent spate of “mud-flinging” in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court campaigns. We think mud is a generous euphemism for what is being spread by supporters of the two candidates.
More importantly, though, the article asks why this contest has taken such a negative turn. The surface answer: “Orie Melvin and Panella are resorting to such tactics because polls indicate they are virtually tied, with a majority of voters still undecided.” But why are voters undecided? Because,
“Strictly in terms of legal acumen, it matters not a whit which candidate wins. Both Orie Melvin and Panella are experienced jurists who were highly recommended by the state bar association. Presumably, neither would ever confuse torts for tarts and attempt to down a few as an afternoon snack.”
Who ends up on the bench is of great importance to us, because decisions judges make affect all of our lives. But if both judges are equally qualified, then why would this election matter at all? According to the people who are most invested in the outcome, as the article points out, the reason is because:
“Whoever wins Tuesday tips control of the seven-member court in favor of his or her party. Whoever wins gives that party a distinct advantage in the legal battles expected when new legislative district maps are drawn after the 2010 Census.”
We’ve heard it before in the last few weeks, “this is such an important race because it will determine the political balance of the Court in a redistricting year.” It is so important, in fact, that both candidates, directly or indirectly, are flinging so much mud that “the dry cleaning bill is bound to be steep.” And we just accept it.
The incredulity must be creeping in.
When did it become okay to count the number of “Ds” and “Rs” on the bench? We should be trying instead to get the fairest, most qualified, and most impartial judges possible. While partisan elections are a critical component of the legislative and executive branches, we must remember that the judiciary is not a political branch of government. But until we begin selecting our judges and justices based on merit, and stop the circus of campaign fundraising and advertising, the mud-flinging will continue, and the public will get nothing from the process but the perception that its judges are anything but impartial.Tags: campaign finance, Judges, judicial elections