Feb 19 2008

Merit Selection Explained

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What is Merit Selection?

A new way for Pennsylvania to choose appellate judges.

A replacement for the current system of partisan elections with its campaigns, fundraising, television ads and robo calls.

A hybrid system that combines the best features of appointive and elective systems and adds a new component – an independent, bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission that screens and evaluates potential candidates for the bench.

The selection process has four steps:

  1. screening and evaluation by a citizens’ nominating commission that recommends the most qualified candidates to the governor;
  2. nomination by the governor of a candidate from the commission’s list;
  3. confirmation by the senate; and
  4. retention in a nonpartisan yes-no vote by the public after an initial term of four years on the bench (and every ten years thereafter).

How Does Merit Selection Work?

The cornerstone of the Merit Selection process is the creation of a new, independent body called a nominating commission.

The commission will be composed of men and women, non-lawyers and lawyers, from across the state and of diverse backgrounds. The commission will solicit applications for judicial vacancies, screen and interview candidates, and recommend the most qualified candidates for nomination to appellate courts to the Governor.

The Governor and legislative leaders of both parties will have a voice in the selection of nominating commission members.

This allows for the public to be represented in the selection process through our elected officials. Sharing the appointment power between the Governor and both parties in the legislature will ensure a bipartisan commission. It will also help in obtaining widespread support for the use of a commission-based nominating system.

And of course, the public, will also have a say about who sits on the nominating commission.

To make sure the people have a say in who’s on the nominating commission, several seats will be “public seats,” and will be filled through a process involving civic groups, professional associations, unions, business organizations, public safety organizations and law school deans.

The Governor will nominate a candidate directly from the list provided by the nominating commission and the nominee will then be subject to Senate confirmation

Once the list of candidates is compiled, the Governor will be bound to nominate from the list and will not be allowed to ask for additional names. By subjecting the nominee to Senate confirmation, the public is again represented in the process.

After an initial term in office, statewide judges seeking to stay on the bench will participate in nonpartisan retention elections, giving the public the final say about who remains a judge.

The people have the ultimate say about whether a judge stays on the bench. Right now, judges stand for retention in uncontested yes/no elections every ten years. Under Merit Selection, a judge will serve an initial term of four years and then stand for retention. If retained, the judge will serve for a ten year term, and then stand for retention again. If a judge fails to win retention either after the initial term or after a later term, the process will start again with the nominating commission soliciting applications for the vacancy.

If you support merit selection in Pennsylvania, please fill out the Supporter Form.

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