Dec 11 2009

Report on the 2009 House Judiciary Committee Hearing

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On December 7, 2009, the  Courts Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Merit Selection legislation that was introduced this session by Representatives Matt Smith and Will Gabig. In the absence of Committee Chair Don Walko, Representative Josh Shapiro chaired the hearing.

Addressing the Committee in support of the legislation were: PMC and PMCAction’s Bob Heim, Lynn Marks and Shira Goodman; Dave Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, and Charlotte Glauser, Judicial Specialist for the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.  J. Whyatt Mondesire of the NAACP was also scheduled to present testimony in support of Merit Selection but was unable to attend.

Testifying against the bills were Tom Foley III of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Association of Trial Lawyers), Professor Michael Dimino of Widener University, and Rick Bloomingdale, Secretary Treasuer of the AFL-CIO.

Written testimony was submitted to the Committee by many of the speakers and by other Coalition partners who were not able to address the Committee in person.  The following submissions are available electronically, and we will add others as they become available:

The hearing was an important step in the public dialogue required to amend the constitution to change the way we select appellate judges. The testimony presented highlighted the problems inherent in electing judges, the benefits of Merit Selection and the need to have a public dialogue on this issue.

Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny, who is sponsoring the legislation, said he believes the current election system disengages the public and gives voters too little information to make their decisions:

The system is too frequently dependent on fundraising, negative television ads, push polls and negative mailers to Pennsylvania voters. The result is a slow and persistent decrease of the public’s faith in our judicial system.

We believe that changing the judicial selection system to Merit Selection, which focuses on qualifications and gets judges out of the fundraising business, will help restore the public’s confidence in the courts and the judiciary.  We hope that the legislature will take the necessary steps to let Pennsylvanians decide whether to change the way we select appellate judges.

The members of the House Judiciary Committee are:

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