May 25 2012
The negative effect that campaign fundraising has on the public’s perception of the judiciary is an issue that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice at Stake and eight retired Montana Supreme Court justices filed a friend-of-the-court brief proclaiming the necessity of protecting the court from
the influence of special interests.
The brief asserted, “Enormous special interest expenditures in state judicial elections are threatening one of the Constitution’s most central guarantees–the right to due process and a fair trial.” Further, the impartiality of courts “has been endangered by the surge in judicial campaign spending, creating the appearance and expectation that judges are beholden to special interests.”
A related press release from Justice at Stake’s executive director, Bert Brandenburg, said, “Americans want cases decided according to the law, not who wrote the biggest check.” The brief adds that significant judicial campaign contributions bolster the public’s fear that “justice is for sale.”
Filing of the brief on May 17 coincided with the indictment of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on May 18. Orie Melvin was charged with campaign corruption. She allegedly used her tax-payer funded staff for political campaign work during her bids for a seat on the Commonwealth’s highest court in 2003 and 2009.
Considering the demonstrated concerns surrounding judicial elections, the time is right to enact legislation that would start the process of amending Pennsylvania’s constitution to switch to a system of Merit Selection. The people of Pennsylvania are ready for the chance to decide for themselves whether or not Merit Selection is a better way of choosing appellate court judges.