Dec 12 2011

Talking About Whether There’s a Better Way

Published by under Merit Selection

Recently, we reported that a debate was held in Minnesota about whether to change the way judges are selected.  Now, we’re reading that similar debates are being held and questions raised about judicial selection in Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  While each of these states is different and has its own unique no prescription viagra experiences in the judicial selection arena, the critical point is that the issue is being publicly discussed.  These discussions are important steps in the lengthy process of changing how judges are selected.  It is essential that the public be engaged and have the opportunity to debate and discuss the issue.

We know Pennsylvanians have strong views about how judges should be selected, and we also know that Pennsylvanians want the opportunity to decide if there is a better way to select judges than the current electoral process. Merit Selection bills are pending in both houses of the legislature, and it anticipated that the House Judiciary Committee will reschedule the public hearing that was initially scheduled for November.

We hope that Pennsylvania will soon be talking about judicial selection as well.  It is time.

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Dec 05 2011

Minnesota: Debate on changing the way judges are selected

Published by under Opinion

A panel will meet December 6 in Afton, Minnesota, to debate whether the state should change the way it selects judges, according to a post on the Minnesota Senate Distrcit 57 GOP’s website.

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A Constitutional amendment bill has recently been submitted to Minnesota’s legislature that would replace Minnesota’s contested judicial elections with a system in which judges initially are appointed by the governor, and would then be subject to retention elections levitra prices at the end of a term.  Under the bill’s provisions, a special commission would be established to help the public evaluate judges’ performance.

This proposed model differs from what we have been advocating that Pennsylvania adopt – the governor of Minnesota would have complete discretion in the initial appointment of a judge, rather than have to select a candidate from a short list compiled by a nominating commission. The commission’s work in Minnesota would apparently be only to educate the public about performance, and to guide them during retention elections.

However, the sentiment is generally the same: that popular election of judges may not end up serving the actual needs of the public, and that the people of a state should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves what system would provide the best, most qualified judges. Senate District 57 Republican Party Chair Kellie Eigenheer notes that “everyone wants a judiciary that is fair, objective and enforces the law. The disagreement is how best to get that result – having the people elect judges, as we do now, or having the governor appoint judges based specific merit-based criteria.”

Public debates are critical to helping the people of a state understand what is at stake, and educate them about the alternatives to their current selection systems. We’d like to see similar debates in Pennsylvania, and soon, the chance for the people of both states to vote on how best to choose their judges.

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Aug 18 2011

An Important Step

The Chaska (MN) Herald today announced a public debate between two state leaders about whether to change the way judges are selected.  State Representatives Mike Beard and State Senator Julianne Ortman, both Republicans, have different views on the subject.  Beard, who favors replacing elections with an appointment and retention election system, argues “Minnesotans take their elections and their judiciary seriously, and they are frustrated with the lack of information available to them so that they can make intelligent and informed decisions.”  Ortman is in favor of maintaining the current electoral process.

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In our minds, the important thing is that people in Minnesota are getting the opportunity to hear about the issue and make their own opinions heard.  It’s an important step in the process of deciding whether a state is using the best system to select judges.  We hope the people of Pennsylvania will have the chance to hear their leaders discuss the issue of judicial selection and ultimately decide for themselves whether there is a better way to choose judges.

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Nov 19 2010

Talking (and Yelling) About Judicial Selection Reform in Minnesota

Over at, Eric Black offers a review of a forum held yesterday on whether to change Minnesota’s judicial selection system from elections to Merit Selection.  Black notes that the forum got a little heated as the participants offered their views:

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That was the topic of a lively panel at the Humphrey Institute in which the panelists came about as close to calling each other names as you ever hear at a Humphrey panel, and the audience got as close to rowdy as I’ve ever seen at a Humphrey panel.

We know people have strong views about judicial selection, but it’s usually best to keep things civilized and let everyone have their say.  In our mind, former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson made a strong case for moving to Merit Selection, focusing on the way judicial elections undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.  Black summarizes Magnuson’s arguments:

When you go in front of a judge, you’d like to feel that the playing field is level.

Turning judicial campaigns into partisan dogfights will create the opposite situation.  Judicial candidates won’t be dumb enough to make campaign promises to rule particular ways on issues that might come before them in the courtroom. . . but they are gonna use buzz words and catch phrases and they’re gonna appear before particular groups in order to raise money. That’s what competitive elections are all about. Campaign spending in judicial elections is rising fast. . . inevitably creating the impression that the winning candidate will be influenced by the interests of their contributors.

Do you want that element, that bad smell, injected into your choice of judge. . . .The question won’t be whether you’re going to appear in front of a good judge or a bad judge. The question increasingly will be whose judge are you going to appear in front of?


We agree that judicial elections leave a bad taste and creative negative public perceptions about the courts.  There is no perfect system, but Merit Selection gets judges out of the fundraising business.  That sounds good to us.

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Nov 14 2008

Asking Important Questions in Minnesota

Published by under Judges,Merit Selection

A column in the Minnesota Daily offers an assessment of the recent elections and challenges readers to think about whether changing from electing judges to a Merit Selection system makes sense. The author notes that despite the large number of ballots cast in Minnesota, many people did not vote in the judicial elections: “Essentially, more than three quarters of a million people went out to vote and didn’t make a decision on the judges who will be interpreting this state’s laws for the next six years.”

The author goes on to explain the proposal for Merit Selection and the reasons proponents believe reform is necessary.  He discusses the issues of campaign  money, independence and nasty campaign tactics.  He also cites those who favor maintaining the judicial election system.

The column closes with a question for the reader:

So what about you? Were you among the 800-odd thousand who voted last week and chose to forego your vote on judicial candidates? Are we better off just leaving this judge stuff to the experts in an attempt to keep money and politics from ruining the judiciary? Or is it more important that each person have a potential voice in the selection of our judges?

We disagree with parts of the premise of this question: we believe citizens will continue to be involved in a Merit Selection system, including having a citizen-based commission, not a panel of “experts,” to screen candidate.  But, we too, would like to know what the public thinks about how we select our appellate judges.  We hope that Pennsylvanians will get a chance to weigh in on this issue in the near future.

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Oct 20 2008

Tales from the Minnesota Campaign Trail

Published by under Judges,News

It’s not a judicial election year in Pennsylvania, but many other states are electing judges this fall.  Two stories from Minnesota illustrate some of the problems inherent in electing judges.

We’ve long pointed out that judicial elections often turn on random factors like ballot position, name recognition and fundraising ability rather than demonstrated skill, qualifications and experience.  A long-serving local judge in Minnesota is facing his first challenger in years.  The incumbent’s campaign co-chair reports that:

[The challenger] has done almost nothing since filing for the race. He has not established a campaign committee nor has he responded to requests for information from the Minnesota State Bar Association, Minnesota Lawyer or the StarTribune. As far as can be determined, Mr. Link is a real estate lawyer with no significant courtroom experience. It has been reported that he chose to run against Judge Bush solely because of the incumbent judge’s “politically unpopular” last name.

In addition to the name recognition game, judicial campaigns continue to grow more and more like other campaigns for public office.  Legal Blog Watch reports that two candidates for the Minnesota Supreme Court have taken their campaigns to Facebook. Mark Cohen of Minnesota Lawyer Blog has commented, “While campaigns run in the virtual world are all well and good, I would like to see a real-world debate between [the candidates].”

We understand that when a state elects its judges, candidates have to be creative in raising funds and running campaigns.  But we think these types of campaigns don’t do much to ensure that the most qualified, skilled and experienced candidates reach the bench.

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Jun 30 2008

Impartiality Of Judges A Concern In Minnesota

As the Pioneer Press explains in an editorial about interim judicial appointees, Minnesota judges “usually take office via a gubernatorial appointment, but then must win re-election to stay in office. This makes it a unique office, out of the flow of daily partisan politics but subject to being sucked in at any moment.” The editorial praises the interim appointment system as a better way to select impartial judges:

Judges should be appointed based on merit and not on political calculus. Fairness, experience and integrity are paramount virtues. We love political battling in legislative races but do not want judicial candidates to be cozying up to interest groups, declaring their views on issues pending before them or attacking foes on television. We want Minnesotans to believe that the judge before whom they are appearing is there for the right reasons and will apply the law impartially.

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This is a good summary of the goals of Merit Selection advocates. We want an appellate bench staffed by judges who know and respect the law, and who will apply it without regard to popular opinion, political whims, or the pressures of campaign donors.

Merit Selection is the system designed to accomplish this. While no system can entirely remove politics from judicial selection, Merit Selection frees the process from ever-increasing campaign spending and the exaggerated value of political savvy over ability and experience.

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Jun 26 2008

Minnesota’s New Chief Justice Warns of Nasty Elections

Published by under Judges,Merit Selection

Even one nasty judicial election would have lasting negative consequences, warns Minnesota’s new chief justice, Eric J. Magnuson.

Our citizens trust our judicial system but what happens when you have even one big, nasty, highly-politicized judicial election concerns me greatly,” he said. ”Perceptions of fairness, equity and access I think will be dramatically undermined if the public’s confidence erodes and it only takes one big campaign to do that.

Magnuson argues that Minnesota needs to switch from judicial elections to a system of “retention elections,” as espoused by the commission headed by former Gov. Al Quie. Under the Quie commission plan, a Merit Selection commission would prepare a list of judges, from which the governor would make his appointments. Ultimately, after an initial term in office, the judges would stand before the public in retention elections and it is the voters who have the final say whether to keep or to fire the appointed judge.

If these changes aren’t made, Magnuson predicts that Minnesota will have to endure what Wisconsin suffered last month.

Millions of dollars were spent by special interest groups on ads attacking the candidates as freeing criminals or engaging in political cronyism,” Magnuson said. ”Well-heeled special interests attempting to manipulate the judicial process are no longer the stuff of fictional thrillers written by John Grisham. It’s reality. It’s reality that’s right next door.

It’s also becoming a reality in Pennsylvania, as elections become more and more expensive and attract money from out-of-state special interest groups.

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Jun 24 2008

Minnesota Worried That Judicial Elections Will Be Getting Worse

Published by under Judges,Merit Selection News

Minnesota is bracing itself for increasingly negative and expensive judicial elections. Tapped by the State Bar Association to be the Chairman of the Judicial Election Campaign Conduct Committee, attorney David Stowman will try to prevent the elections from turning ugly and partisan.

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Stowman points out that judicial elections should be different than other elections. “Judges do not have a constituency, they are more like a referee.” This essential role is threatened by one of the biggest problems with judicial elections: the influence of money and the buying of influence. “Certainly none of us would want to be sitting in front of a judge that had taken large campaign contributions from the other side of the counsel table,” he said.

States that have judicial elections, like Minnesota and our own Pennsylvania, should expect judicial elections to become increasingly expensive and nasty. Stowman hopes that the Judicial Election Campaign Conduct Committee will only be temporary, and that Minnesota will move away from judicial elections. Some are calling for Merit Selection. By removing the money, Merit Selection provides a cleaner, more dignified process.

Link to story; free, requires registration.

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May 14 2008

Exposing Myths About Merit Selection

As the campaign for Merit Selection progresses, we hear some inaccurate arguments repeated by those who oppose Merit Selection. In an effort to set the record straight, we’ll reveal the truth and clear up these myths.

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Myth #5: All Merit Selection Systems Are the Same
Someone once said there as many different judicial selection systems as there are snowflakes. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s true that judicial selection systems differ greatly depending on where you are. This is also true of Merit Selection systems.

The proposal to implement Merit Selection for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts incorporates the best parts of other states’ systems, and corrects aspects of those systems that are less successful. We outline below how the proposal for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts differs from the systems used by other states. (Visit the American Judicature Society to learn more about other Merit Selection systems.)

The Nominating Commission is Appointed by Elected Officials and Non-elected Entities
Like other states’ nominating commissions, elected officials like the Governor and legislative leaders have a role in appointing members of the nominating commission. However, under the unique Pennsylvania proposal, non-elected entities, including civic organizations, law school deans, unions, business organizations, nonlawyer professional associations and public safety organizations a

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the nominating commission.

The Governor Cannot Request Additional Lists or Additional Names of Recommended Candidates from the Nominating Commission
Under the proposed plan, the Governor is bound to nominate from the nominating commission’s list of recommended candidates. The Governor may not reject the list or request that other names be added to it. This is different from the Merit Selection systems in place in several states, including Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Tennessee.

The Process Involves a Role for the Governor, the Senate and the Public
Under the Pennsylvania proposal, an appellate judge can only be seated after being nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The judge will serve a short initial term of four years, after which he or she must stand before the public in a retention election. If retained, the judge may serve a ten year term, after which he or she will again be eligible to stand for retention.

Several states don’t require legislative confirmation — including Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Kansas. And in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, judges do not stand for retention.

Merit Selection systems are as varied and unique as the states that adopt them. We think the one being considered for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts offers a better way to select appellate judges.

Keep visiting to learn the truth about Merit Selection.

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