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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