Mar 31 2010
An editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer roundly endorses scrapping our state’s practice of judicial elections and making the much-needed switch to a merit selection system for choosing appellate court judges.
While many in Pennsylvania have long decried the inherent flaws and contradictions of a system that forces would-be judges to run in exorbitantly expensive, hotly-contested political races, more attention has been paid to the issue lately in part due to a recent study showing the high frequency by which contributors to judicial election campaigns later appear in court.
The Inquirer explains,
The nonpartisan American Judicature Society (AJS) reports that nearly two out of three civil cases decided by the Supreme Court in the last two years involved a litigant, lawyer, or law firm who had given money to one or more of the justices’ campaigns. That doesn’t even count giving by business, labor, and political groups.
Long before this study, most Pennsylvanians told pollsters that partisan judicial elections – awash in unrestricted campaign donations – risked creating the impression that justice is for sale. Last year, a two-way race for a seat on the court generated $4.7 million in political donations.
The study by the AJS “confirms Pennsylvanians’ concerns about the problematic role of money in judicial elections,” according to the statewide reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.
Legislation is currently pending in Harrisburg to allow the question of merit selection to be presented to the public in a referendum vote. The bill has the strong support of Governor Rendell, who has named merit selection as a top reform priority for his remaining time in office.
But it is what the people believe that truly matters. Our courts were designed to protect the citizenry of Pennsylvania and allow individuals a fair, neutral arena for which to bring their grievances. Now, that presumption of fairness and neutrality has been called into question and public confidence has been weakened. Merit selection provides the remedy.
Nothing less than citizens’ trust in the fairness of the state’s judicial system is at stake.