Jul 10 2014
Fundraising, gaining political support, and campaigning. These tasks, normally reserved for politicians running for political office, also exist within the non-political realm of the judiciary in the form of judicial elections.
Pennsylvania’s system of judicial elections creates a political atmosphere within the judicial branch that should not exist. Instead of focusing squarely on the rule of law, judges have to focus on tasks usually left to the executive and legislative branches.
Some opponents of judicial selection reform in Pennsylvania argue that because we have not yet seen any catastrophic results from electing all our judges, there is no reason to reform the system. However, as recent developments in Maryland demonstrate, there is no guarantee that respectful, informative and clean judicial elections will continue.
According to an article in the Washington Post, this year’s trial court elections in Maryland have become unexpectedly contentious due to concerns about the conduct and connections of one of the judicial candidates. In fact, the campaign has become so political, some reformers are pushing to change the way judges are selected.
In Maryland, appellate court judges are selected through a merit selection process while trial court judges are elected. Reformers are using this election cycle as an example as to why all Maryland judges should be selected through merit selection.
Judicial selection should be a process of finding the most qualified, fair and impartial judges to sit on the bench. It should not rely on fundraising skills, political connections, or ability to successfully campaign. The best fundraiser or campaigner is not necessarily the best judge.
Maryland is light years ahead of Pennsylvania in reforming their judicial selection process, but there is still room to further improve it.
It is time for Pennsylvania to follow suit and rid itself of judicial elections so it too can have the best decision makers on the bench.