Aug 15 2008

Voices of Merit: Colorado Grateful

Boulder County’s Daily Camera columnist Doug Thorburn recently wrote a column praising local judge James C. Klein. The piece reserves plenty of kind words for the system that put Judge Klein on the bench.

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Thorburn summarizes the problems with judicial elections, including campaign contributions that create the appearance of bias and bitter, negative campaigns that sour the reputations of otherwise competent jurists. He then describes how Colorado’s Merit Selection system works to correct these problems, and how it provides Colorado with qualified, impartial judges.

Colorado, Thorburn concludes, “should be grateful for a vetting of judges based upon merit from the outset.” We agree with this assessment, and we hope that we’ll soon be able to say the same thing about Pennsylvania’s appellate judges.

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Jun 10 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.

Myth #6: Merit Selection supporters want to do away with all elections.

This is a favorite scare tactic of opponents of Merit Selection, usually worded as a question; “While we’re at it, why not replace election of the governor or the legislature with Merit Selection too?” It suggests, falsely, that supporters of Merit Selection of appellate judges plan to somehow create a world where nobody votes for anything, and the entire government is appointed rather than elected.

The truth is that Merit Selection supporters aren’t trying to replace election of all public officials. We think that Merit Selection is a better way to select appellate judges because judges are different from other elected officials. Judges are sworn to act impartially, to apply the law without regard for personal pref

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erence, political pressure or the interests of campaign contributors.

Impartiality isn’t a requirement for other officials, like governors, senators, representatives and mayors. Candidates for those offices make promises in order to raise money and win votes. Donors give money to these campaigns with the expectation that the candidates will vote or act a certain way if elected.

Because the judiciary has to place the law above all other considerations, it’s different from the other branches of government. It doesn’t make sense to treat judges like political officials up until the moment they start doing their jobs. Instead, we should be treating judges differently from the moment they seek to join the bench.

Merit Selection supporters want to ensure a fair, impartial judiciary for all citizens. To that end, we’re seeking to change only how appellate judges are selected. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Keep visiting to learn the truth about Merit Selection.

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May 30 2008

Setting the Philadelphia Public Record Straight

In their May 15th cover story about the effort to bring Merit Selection of appellate judges to Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Public Record rehashed the old argument that Merit Selection supporters are conspiring to take away the right to vote for appellate judges. In an effort to set the Record straight

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, we wrote a letter to its editor. It was published in the May 29th edition, and is available online. As intern K.O. Myers explained, “Reasonable people can disagree about the best way to select appellate judges, but the voters of Pennsylvania should have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. That’s all we’re asking for.”

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May 25 2008

Calls for Diversity On The Appellate Bench

Published by under Judges,Our Perspective

Now that the Pennsylvania Senate has officially rejected Governor Rendell’s nominations to fill four vacant appellate judgeships, calls are coming for increased diversity among the judges on the appellate bench. Senate Republicans cited lack of diversity in the nominees as one reason why they rejected the slate. The Black Legislative Caucus is calling on the Governor to nominate Black and Latino candidates to fill the seats.

Supporters of Merit Selection are keenly aware of the lack of diversity on the appellate courts in Pennsylvania. Of 31 judges on the three statewide courts, only two are judges of color (one on Superior Court and one on Commonwealth Court). No minorities sit on the Supreme Court. Only one African American has ever been elected to the Supreme Court, and there have been no justices or

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appellate judges of Hispanic or Asian descent.

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In addition, historically most appellate judges have come from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. This stems in large part from the difficulty in running a statewide campaign and the need for broad support from big population centers. Although county of residence is essentially irrelevant to one’s qualifications to serve as an appellate judge, it has been an important predictor of electoral success.

A diverse judiciary is good for the state, and it’s good for justice. Pennsylvanians can feel confident that their viewpoints will be fairly considered when the judiciary includes judges who come from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the Commonwealth and who bring many different experiences to the bench. Merit Selection — which offers pathways to the appellate bench for qualified jurists from a variety of areas and backgrounds — can help Pennsylvania achieve this.

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May 13 2008

Merit Selection Debate Takes to the Airwaves

This week, the Susquehana Valley Center for Public Policy’s TV show Behind the Headlines will focus on Merit Selection. PMC/PMCAction’s Lynn Marks debates Lowman Henry about how Pennsylvania should select appellate court judges. Check this link for a list of cable systems that carry the show.

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On Saturday, PMC/PMCAction’s

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Shira Goodman will discuss judicial selection on THE BOX: Inside Outside On, on WHP 580 AM. Shira will discuss Merit Selection and the current elective system with host Matt Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. The show airs on May 17th at 8 am.

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May 01 2008

Times-Tribune: Time To “Get The Ball Rolling On Merit Selection.”

Published by under Merit Selection,Opinion

In an editorial addressing Governor Rendell’s stalled interim judicial appointments, Scranton’s Times-Tribune points out that judicial elections make it difficult for qualified candidates from many areas of Pennsylvania to reach the appellate bench.

Due to simple electoral math, it is very difficult for any candidate who is not from the Philadelphia area or Allegheny County to be elected to the appellate courts. Diversification of the appellate courts is one of the reasons that the state should switch to a system of merit selection.

Diversity on the bench, including geographic, racial, ethnic, gender and professional diversity, is one of many important characteristics of a fair and impartial justice system. It’s something that’s elections have not produced on Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.

We agree with the Times-Tribune that it’s time for Pennsylvania’s legislators to “get the ball rolling on merit selection.”

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Apr 28 2008

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Published by under Our Perspective

In a letter to the editor published in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCA Executive Director Lynn Marks explains how Merit Selection of appellate judges differs from the interim judicial appointments currently stalled in the state Senate.

Opponents of Merit Selection like to argue that the struggle over Governor Rendell’s nominations somehow makes Merit Selection impractical or unworkable. In reality, the two systems are very different, and problems with the interim appointment process don’t undermine the value of Merit Selection.

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Apr 27 2008

Overheard at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference

Published by under Merit Selection News

Yesterday, PMC Associate Director Shira Goodman made a presentation about Merit Selection to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Goodman spoke on a panel dedicated to The Future of Reform in Pennsylvania and opened her remarks by saying “I’m here to talk to you about why we believe it’s time for Pennsylvanians to decide how they want to pick their appellate judges.” The presentation about the benefits of Merit Selection was well-received, and is being broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

You can find more coverage on the conference in Philadelphia’s The Bulletin newspaper.

UPDATE: Videos of the conference speakers and panels are now available.

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Apr 26 2008

What Opponents of Merit Selection Get Wrong

In an op-ed in the Daily News, Merit Selection opponent Gerald McOscar reiterates some common misconceptions about Merit Selection. We thought we should answer his questions and correct his inaccuracies.

Let’s start with his primary question, why Merit Selection for judges but not for other public officials. First, to be clear, the current legislative proposals would implement Merit Selection only for the three appellate courts. Elections to these courts require judges to run statewide.

Second, judges are different from other public officials. Judges are sworn to act impartially and faithfully uphold and apply the law, regardless of personal preference, political pressure, popular opinion and the desires of campaign contributors.

Other officials, like governors, senators, representatives and mayors are not subject to such limitations. Instead, they represent constituencies, make promises in order to win votes, and are held accountable for whether they live up to those promises. People donate to the campaigns of these officials because they agree with their agendas and expect them to carry out those agendas once in office.

By contrast, judges cannot promise to rule a certain way once they reach the bench. But they still need to raise lots of money to run statewide campaigns. Who contributes to such campaigns? The bulk of the donations come from lawyers, lawfirms and other organizations that frequently appear before the state courts as counsel or parties.

No one should have to worry whether the opposing party or counsel in court contributed to the presiding judge. But in a system that requires judges to raise lots of money to run in statewide partisan elections, people do worry about this. Merit Selection gets judges out of the fundraising business and lets judges be judges, not campaigners and fundraisers.

Next, Mr. McOscar seems not to understand that changing to a Merit Selection system for the appellate courts involves amending the constitution. It’s not something the governor or the legislature can do of their own accord. In fact, the Governor does not even have a role in the amendment process. The legislature must pass the same constitutional amendment in two successive sessions and then the people must vote for it in a referendum. The system can only change if the people of Pennsylvania vote for a change.

And that brings us to his third question, why has it taken so long to bring this reform to Pennsylvania? Because opponents of Merit Selection are afraid to let the voters decide for themselves the best way to pick appellate court judges. That’s why this issue hasn’t gone before the people in 40 years.

Supporters of Merit Selection trust the voters to make this decision. But opponents haven’t given the voters this chance. What are you so afraid of, Mr. McOscar?

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Apr 22 2008

Missouri House Protects Judicial Selection From Partisan Politics

On April 17th, the Missouri state House rejected an effort to radically revise the state’s “Missouri Plan,” which has served as a model for Merit Selection of judges in 30 other states. Proposed changes to the plan would have eliminated the nonpartisan nomination commission, and replaced it with a system controlled entirely by the governor and state legislators.

A broad coalition of community groups, lead by Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, made it clear to the legislature that the voters of Missouri didn’t want to politicize judicial selection. The state House clearly got the message, and decisively defeated the proposed changes.

The vote caps the most recent skirmish in a long fight to protect Missouri’s Merit Selection system from efforts to make its process more political. We’re glad that the people and legislators of Missouri recognize that nonpartisan, nonpolitical judicial selection is an important part of a fair and impartial justice system.

via Gavel Grab

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