Welcome to JudgesOnMerit, a blog designed by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC) and PMCAction as a place to discuss how we choose statewide appellate judges in Pennsylvania.
PMC and PMCAction are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations working to ensure that we have fair and impartial courts that serve all Pennsylvanians. We are working to change the way we pick appellate judges in Pennsylvania.
Judges and the courts they work on have an impact on all of our lives. Even when we’re not directly involved in a case, court orders and decisions can set down rules that affect many aspects of our daily lives – from domestic disputes and custody cases, to employment issues, to car accidents, to personal injury claims. How can we be certain that we have highly qualified, fair and impartial judges making those crucial decisions?
Right now, Pennsylvania is one of only six states that elect all judges – from the neighborhood judges in the magisterial district courts to the justices on the Supreme Court – in contested partisan elections. Judges run on a party label, have campaign committees that raise money, and run against opponents.
We believe there’s a better way to pick the judges of the three statewide appellate courts – the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts. Rather than holding elections for these judgeships, we propose using a system called Merit Selection, which is a hybrid of electoral and appointive systems.
Although it’s used in various forms in different states, Merit Selection has several core components:
- A broad-based citizen nominating commission screens and evaluates candidates and recommends a list of the most qualified candidates to the Governor;
- The Governor nominates a candidate from the list provided by the nominating commission;
- The nominee must be confirmed by a vote of the State Senate;
- Following an initial term on the bench (and at regular intervals), the public determines through a yes/no nonpartisan retention election whether the judge will stay on the bench.
In a few days bills will be introduced into the Pennsylvania House and Senate seeking to amend the state constitution to adopt a Merit Selection system for the appellate courts. JudgesOnMerit will follow the progress of the legislation, provide information about the current elective process (and why we believe it’s broken), and explain why we believe Merit Selection is a better way to pick judges.
We value your opinion and want your voice to be heard. Please join in the dialogue about how we choose appellate judges in Pennsylvania.
, Merit Selection