Aug 28 2012
The notion of equality is a pillar of American justice. But when it comes to equality on the bench, the American judiciary is sorely lacking. According to an article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, women and minorities are not as well represented on the bench as they should be.
Judicial elections may be one cause of the disparity. Partisan election of judges puts a premium on fundraising and political connections. Qualifications and diversity are not emphasized. Of the 31 judges serving on Pennsylvania’s
three appellate level courts, there is only one judge of color, and she sits on the Superior Court. Further, only a single African American has ever been elected to the state Supreme Court.
The League of Women Voters is one of the many organizations that supports Merit Selection in Pennsylvania as a proposed solution to the problem. Elizabeth McNamara, national director of the League of Women Voters said “allowing applicants to submit their credentials to a merit panel would make the judiciary attractive and accessible to diverse range of candidates.”
Lynn Marks — executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts,
a nonpartisan court reform organization, and co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness – commented on the importance of diversity on the bench. “Judges learn from one another. There’s a richer discussion of cases where you have a wide spectrum of life experience.”
Research by the American Judicature Society shows that racial minorities and women have greater success reaching appellate benches through Merit Selection. No candidate is excluded from the process due to lack of financial resources or political connections. Merit Selection puts the focus back on what’s really important: an applicant’s skills, qualifications, experiences, contributions to the community and reputation for fair and ethical behavior.