Jun 27 2014

In the Right Spotlight

Can you name at least two candidates in any of the recent judicial elections in your district or state? Do you know something meaningful about the platform they ran on? Even if you can answer the first question, the second question might leave you stumped.

Public offices such as governor, representative and senator get more than their share of the media’s attention. When it comes to meaningful coverage of judicial elections, however, the public is often left in the dark. In the few cases when judicial elections gain wide spread media attention, it is usually for the wrong reasons, as was the case for the recent Supreme Court race in North Carolina. So then, the public is either not fully aware of judicial candidates or are left to make their decisions on television ads funded by partisan interest groups. In both cases, the public suffers.

Pennsylvania is currently one of only six states that elect all their judges in partisan elections. With the growing involvement of interest groups and their money, judicial campaigns are beginning to look more and more like political campaigns. Issues relevant to the bench, such as the candidate’s experience and track record of ruling by the law, are replaced by negative attacks on opponents and the political affiliation of candidates.

Compared to political leaders, judges are the public officials that citizens are most likely to come in direct contact with in their everyday lives. Judges play the important role of upholding the rule of law and making sure that justice is fairly and equally enacted amongst all. With such an important responsibility placed upon judges, it becomes crucial that there be an effective and reliable system in place to ensure that the best-qualified candidates are entrusted with carrying out the duties of the bench. This is where merit selection comes in.

Rather than continue the politicization of judicial elections, merit selection allows for candidates to be considered for and appointed to judgeships based on their qualifications and proven track record. Through nominating commissions that thoroughly vet candidates and retention elections, merit selection provides the public with opportunities for engaged participation in choosing judges, rather than relying on thirty second attack ads.

Tags: ,

No responses yet

Jun 05 2014

Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee to Consider House Bill 1848

Published by under Merit Selection

The Bucks County Herald recently featured an op-ed column written by Charles Meredith encouraging members of the House Judiciary Committee to report out House Bill 1848 relating to merit selection of statewide judges. The Committee is scheduled to consider the bill early next week.

Now, all Pennsylvania judges are elected in expensive, partisan elections. House Bill 1848 would create a bi-partisan commission to screen and evaluate potential candidates for Pennsylvania’s Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. Local judges would still be elected.

The merit selection process of House Bill 1848 involves four steps. A bi-partisan citizens nominating commission made up of lawyers and non-lawyers would evaluate judicial applicants and recommend the most qualified to the Governor. Next, the governor would nominate an individual from the short list created by the commission to be sent before the Senate for confirmation. Lastly, after the individual is confirmed as a judge, she or he can sit for a shortened term of four years before going before the voters in a nonpartisan retention election for a 10 year term, and every ten years following.

One glaring reason Pennsylvania should switch to merit selection is to maintain the role of a judge as an objective decision-maker. Judges are not, and should not be politicians. Judges are inherently different from the other elected officials. Using discretion to come to a well-reasoned objective decision is a judge’s main role, while other elected officials represent constituents and fight for their needs and desires. In doing so, these elected officials need to campaign and raise money to ensure they are elected and re-elected. Judges do not represent anyone. Instead, judges make objective decisions based on the rule of law. When the public sees judges campaigning and fundraising to win a seat on the bench, it takes away from their view of the judge as an objective decision-maker, and instead gives the impression that judges are the same as other politicians.

House Bill 1848 should be voted out of Committee because it represents a bi-partisan, commonsense effort to get the most qualified candidates to the bench by maintaining a judge’s primary role as decision-maker. It is time Pennsylvanians tell their representatives that judges are not politicians.

Tags: ,

No responses yet

May 29 2014

Political Justice

Across the country, politics is quickly rearing its head in the nation’s courtrooms. Lawmakers are infringing more and more upon the independence of the judiciary. Lawmakers in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas have introduced bills that limit the power of the judiciary following unpopular decisions.

This phenomenon is made worse by increases in partisan financial support for judicial elections, which are also threatening the independence of the judiciary. Current judicial elections make it nearly impossible for judicial candidates to run without substantial donations to fund their campaigns. This has allowed partisan and special interest groups to have more influence on judicial elections through their funding of candidates. In North Carolina alone, special interest groups spent more than $1.3 million on the Supreme Court race, with $900,000 contributed from the Republican State Leadership Committee being used in attack adds against incumbent Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson.

A recent study by Center for American Progress reports that states have failed to update their judicial recusal rules to reflect potential conflict of interests resulting from campaign contributions.

Political pressure coupled with the increasing campaign contributions leaves our judiciaries in precarious situations. Editorials in The Washington Post and The New York Times highlight the growing concern over the loss of judicial independence. The judiciary has long been seen as the branch of government most isolated from the partisan bickering of politics. Judges are expected to rule in accordance with the law, safe from threats of retaliation from lawmakers. It is this separation of powers and the belief in the objectivity of the law, which has made our judicial system what is today. If events like those in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas continue, our proud history of an independent judiciary could be at risk.

One way to push back against the pressure of politics and money is to change the way we select our judges. Moving from Pennsylvania’s current system of expensive, partisan judicial elections to the merit selection of judges would curb the influence of money and politics from our courts. Merit selection takes into account the candidate’s ability to uphold the rule of law rather than the candidate’s war chest or political affiliation. In merit selection, a nomination commission of private citizens vets judicial candidates, with the most qualified candidates being recommended to the governor for approval and senate confirmation. Once confirmed, judges will sit for a shortened term before facing voters in a yes/no retention election to determine if they are fulfilling their responsibilities as judges. This helps limit the pressures of politicians and their checkbooks that our judges currently face.

The events in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas should serve as a warning that we need to take action to maintain the integrity of our judiciary. Here in Pennsylvania, PMC is currently pushing for legislation to implement judicial merit selection, protecting both the integrity of our judges and our justice system. We need an independent justice system that works for the people––not the politicians–– and merit selection is the best way to achieve that goal.

Tags: , ,

No responses yet

May 07 2014

Politicians in Robes?

Great news for state-level Republican judicial candidates throughout the country: they could be seeing a lot more financial support from their party! The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) announced its plans to launch the Judicial Fairness Initiative tasked with providing monetary support for judge candidates with conservative ideology.

Specifically, the Judicial Fairness Initiative plans to help mobilize voters, fund campaigns, and gather resources to help in judicial elections. While Matt Walter, president of RSLC, has not announced a set budget for the program, the group is estimated to spend more than $5 million on judicial campaigns this year alone.

Most recently, the RSLC had gained national attention with its involvement in the North Carolina Supreme Court race. The group contributed over $600,000 to the conservative Justice for All NC PAC. Justice for All NC then went on to release a series of ads against incumbent Justice Robin Hudson suggesting her of siding with ‘child predators’ after her dissenting opinion in a case over electronic monitoring of child molesters.

However, Republicans are not the only ones throwing money behind judicial candidates. Groups and individuals from across the political spectrum, including left-leaning Human Rights Watch, are providing financial support for their favored judicial candidates. Since very few states have laws requiring judges to recuse themselves in cases involving parties that contributed to their election, it presents a public perception of impartiality when judges preside over such cases.

Current judicial elections risk turning the judiciary into another partisan political battleground. When partisan political groups support judges, either financially or through endorsements, the perception of a fair and impartial judiciary is tainted. Judges then risk being seen as ruling in line with their political supporters rather than through the objective interpretation of the law. As Alicia Bannon, of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school accurately states, the politicization of judicial elections risks turning judges into ‘politicians with robes.’ With a judiciary that depends heavily on public trust, judges cannot risk the perception of impropriety.

The most appropriate way to curb the influence of politics from the judiciary is through merit selection. Merit selection depoliticizes judges by removing the pressure on judges to act in accordance to a political ideology in return for campaign donations and support. Instead, merit selection relies on the nomination of qualified judge candidates by a bipartisan citizen committee for gubernatorial approval and Senate confirmation. This process ensures the selection of judges based on their earned credentials, not their political allegiance.

Pennsylvania can avoid the partisan influence of the RSLC and other groups by supporting efforts to move from contested elections of judges to the merit selection of judges. We all deserve a court system we have confidence in to act in accordance with the law, rather than with politics. Let the politicians keep their suits; we prefer our judges in robes.

Tags: , ,

No responses yet

Apr 16 2014

Politics Over Principles in Race for Chief Justice

The race for North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice got a little more testy this weekend, as Republican candidates for the seat, Superior Court Judge Ola Mae Lewis, and Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin, traded barbs at a political event. Judge Lewis called into question the high court’s productivity, specifically highlighting that her opponent, Justice Martin had only written 5 opinions in the previous year. Conversely, Justice Martin touted his experience on the court, while taking a veiled swipe at Judge Lewis’s Republican bonafides, based on her past work for Democrats.

 

Although this back and forth may have been great political theater, it bears no relation and has nothing to do with who will make the best Chief Justice. The job of a judge is to uphold the law and protect the constitution – not to keep campaign promises or represent the interests of the voters who elected them. No matter who wins on election day, the citizens of North Carolina lose, because their new Chief Justice will be the best politician, not necessarily the best Chief Justice.

 

Here in Pennsylvania, we too use elections to select our judges. However, we shouldn’t have to make the same mistakes as North Carolina in order to recognize the need to change our system.

 

Instead of constantly putting judicial candidates through the rigor of meaningless campaigning, judges should be selected based on their qualifications alone. Moving to a merit selection system does just that. In addition to removing the money and negative campaigning components of electing judges, merit selection allows potential judges to be thoroughly vetted and chosen based on their qualifications, experience, and reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness. Most importantly, however, merit selection benefits Pennsylvania and the nation, by ensuring a more independent and impartial judiciary, free from the perception of bias that comes with expensive, partisan judicial elections.

 

It’s time to take campaigning out of judicial selection and choose our judges based on their merit.

Tags: ,

No responses yet

Apr 08 2014

A Better Way to Pick Judges

Published by under Merit Selection

It’s great to be a legislator in Virginia. You have control over judicial appointments and if you ever get bored in the General Assembly, there’s likely a cushy judgeship waiting for you.

Virginia is one of only two states in which judicial appointments are decided entirely by the legislature. This method of judicial selection has resulted in power politics spilling over into the states’ courtrooms.

In 2008, Norfolk County was left with three vacant judgeships for months as a result of a dispute between Sens. Ken Stolle and Yvonne Miller. A similar incident occurred in 2012 when conservative lawmakers delayed the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to Richmond’s General District Court because he was openly gay.

Additionally, Virginia lawmakers have been making courtrooms their retirement destinations. Judges are generally reappointed until they retire, and then enjoy a generous salary and state benefits. Lawmakers often trade-in their positions in the legislature for a cushy spot on the bench, further adding to the perception of an unfair judiciary.

Despite its apparent flaws, Virginia lawmakers have been unwilling to enact any changes to the states judicial election process. A measure that would bar legislators from accepting judicial appointments within four years of leaving the General Assembly was rejected. However, the General Assembly did approve the creation of twenty-seven new judgeships.

Judicial selection practices, such as the one in Virginia, create a ‘patronage’ system in which legislators have considerable control over judicial appointments. Legislators are given indirect control of the courts by their ability to choose judges. Gaining a judicial appointment then relies upon the “connections” that a candidate has in the legislature rather than his or her qualifications.

A better way of appointing judges is through merit selection. Under merit selection, judges are evaluated based solely on their credentials by a bipartisan citizen’s nominating commission consisting of lawyers and nonlawyers, which represent the diversity of the state. Once candidates have been screened, a short list is then sent to the governor who must nominate one of the individuals on the list. The judicial nominee must be confirmed by the Senate and then will sit for a shortened term before facing the public in a yes/no retention election. In this manner, nominees are chosen not for their personal relationships, but rather for their qualifications, experience and ability to fairly uphold the law. Merit selection increases public confidence in the judiciary.

Pennsylvania should see Virginia as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of mixing politics with the judiciary. The current expensive, partisan election of Pennsylvania judges creates a negative public perception of politics influencing a supposedly independent and impartial judiciary. In order for Pennsylvania to preserve the public confidence of its judiciary, it needs to implement merit selection.

Tags: , ,

No responses yet

Mar 25 2014

In the Interest of the Law

It’s been said before, ‘merit selection takes power away from the people to choose judges who represent them.’

But, that represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a judge; judges should not represent the people who voted for them. Judges should represent the law and the ability to decide cases before them impartially.

Judges are expected to decide cases based on the facts and the law, not public opinion or campaign promises. In allowing lawyers, law firms and groups who often appear before the court the ability to donate to judicial campaigns, we risk the public perception that judges rule in favor of their supporters. This creates the impression that justice is for sale.

Merit selection allows citizens the opportunity for more meaningful participation in judicial selection. In reality, how much meaningful information is the public receiving about judicial candidates under the current judicial election system? The public is bombarded with numerous names (many of whom they probably never heard of) and the real worth of a candidate is lost beneath all the flashy political signs and slogans rampant in campaigns.

Under merit selection, the chaos of campaigning is removed thus allowing for more productive interaction between prospective judges and the public. Through the initial merit selection process, only the most qualified of applicants are given consideration for appointments. As members of the nominating commission, citizens are then able to engage in more meaningful consideration of nominees, rather then wading through lists of names. The public may also give input to the Governor before he or she makes the nomination and during the confirmation hearings before the Senate.

Most importantly, retention elections provide the public with another opportunity for engaged participation. Retention elections allow the public to decide whether a judge should stay on the bench based on the judge’s track record, not on his or her campaign capabilities.

The most important thing to remember is that while the public is still engaged through the nominating commission and retention election process, the law is still the primary concern. Both the nominating commission and the retention election is concerned about the ability of candidates to objectively represent the law, not a specific interest group.

In essence, merit selection is not about taking power away from the people, rather it’s about providing the public with the best chance of having a fair and impartial judiciary.

Tags: , ,

No responses yet

Feb 25 2014

Judges for Sale in North Carolina

Since 2004, more than 80% of judicial candidates in North Carolina have used public financing to fund their campaigns. This program gave a grant to judicial candidates who raised money from small donors and agreed to strict spending limits. However, after nearly a decade on the books, the program was eliminated by North Carolina lawmakers, opening the door for big money to flow into judicial campaigns in the state.

 

Individuals in North Carolina can now contribute up to $5,000 to a judicial candidate, up from $1,000; and without public financing, judicial candidates will rely heavily on big donors, in order to win elections. According to the national institute on money in state politics, 78% of North Carolina’s supreme court elections were monetarily competitive under public financing, as opposed to only 25% prior to it. With the elimination of this program, judicial seats will go to the best fundraiser, rather than the most qualified candidate, which will only undermine public confidence in the judiciary.

 

Big money exacerbates the already problem-laden practice of judicial elections. When judges are forced to court big donors in order to be elected, it puts them in a position they are unaccustomed to, and creates the appearance of impropriety. Further, it is difficult for the public to have faith in an impartial judiciary, when lawyers, law firms, and corporate interests are allowed to buy influence in it. Public financing greatly reduced the impact of big money in North Carolina’s judicial elections, now with it it gone, the state’s upcoming judicial elections may be one example to the nation, of just how much justice really costs.

 

Pennsylvania needs to get its act together and reform our own judicial selection model. The bipartisan judicial merit selection legislation, currently pending in the House, will guard Pennsylvania judges from the insidious effects of big money, and assure Pennsylvanians that our judges are not for sale.

 

Tags: ,

No responses yet

Jun 28 2012

The Real Reasons Pennsylvanians Want to Find a New Way to Select Judges

Published by under Opinion

In a letter published in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, PMC’s Lynn  A. Marks points out the problems in Dan Pero’s recent op-ed about Merit Selection.  Pero focused on the fact that even Merit Selection systems cannot totally eliminate politics from judicial selection. While conceding this point, Marks pointed out the big issues that Pero ignores and the real reasons Pennsylvanians want to find a new way to select judges:

Seventy-six percent of surveyed Pennsylvanians believe that campaign contributions affect judicial decision-making. In other words, the public believes justice is for sale. The same survey found that 73 percent believe that the most qualified candidates do not win judicial elections. This is the release of hgh at orgasem not HGH surprising. Elections are designed to reward the best campaigners and fundraisers, not the most qualified candidates.

write essay

Marks further notes that by tabling the Merit Selection legislation, the House Judiciary Committee essentially voted against allowing the people of Pennsylvania to decide whether to change how we select appellate judges.  93% of surveyed Pennsylvanians want the opportunity to decide. Pero thinks the

online viagra

legislature serves the voters by tabling legislation and keeping the issue bottled in committee.  We disagree and  believe the legislature can show voters it trusts them by giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves whether there is a better way to choose judges.

zp8497586rq
Tags: , , , , ,

Comments Off

Dec 14 2011

The Benefits of a Nominating Commission

Published by under Opinion

As we noted earlier this week, there is some talk in Virginia of changing the way judges are selected. Currently, they are appointed by the legislature.  An editorial in the dailypress.com approves of the Lieutenant Governor’s proposal to use a commission-based appointment system and outlines the benefits of nominating commissions:

Judges should not be politicians. A commission-based selection process by a broad-based group that examines the experience and credentials of candidates, conducts interviews and evaluates candidates’ fitness for service is more likely to produce an prednisone antibiotics impartial and well-qualified judiciary than elections or legislative appointments.  A system that also includes retention votes makes judges accountable to the people at large for upholding the standards of integrity and conduct required by the position.

binary option trading strategies

These are some of the very reasons we believe Pennsylvanians should consider implementing a Merit Selection system for the appellate courts.  We hope the people of Pennsylvania will soon have the opportunity to weigh in on this issue.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments Off

Next »