May 19 2012
As the state legislature prepares to vote on an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would do away with partisan judicial elections, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer expects that the indictment of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will serve as a pointed reminder of why such an amendment is necessary.
Melvin faces nine criminal counts alleging that she used her taxpayer-funded staff to do political campaign work while running for her state Supreme Court seat. Melvin has maintained her innocence and vowed to fight the charges. Nevertheless, this scandal has cast a dark cloud over the state’s highest court and has forced the other justices to take action to restore public confidence. Melvin was relieved of all court duties on Friday in an effort to respond to “a compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity” of the court.
The Melvin charges bring to light the unfortunate truth that judicial elections can turn judges into politicians that are sometimes “all too willing to break the rules to get elected.” It’s time that judges got out of politics and returned their focus to the fair and impartial administration of justice. “The Melvin case has become Exhibit No. 1 on the need to enact the judicial merit-selection legislation pending in Harrisburg.”