On Monday, the Courts Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the pending Merit Selection legislation. Representative Josh Shapiro (D, Montgomery) chaired the hearing in Subcommittee Chair Don Walko’s (D, Allegheny) absence. Also attending were Minority Subcommittee Chair Tom Creighton (R, Lancaster), bill sponsor Matt Smith (D, Allegheny), Mike Vereb (R, Montgomery), Joseph Petrarca (D, Armstrong), Kathy Manderino (D, Philadelphia and Montgomery), Kate Harper (R, Montgomery), Glen Grell (R, Cumberland) and Deberah Kula (D, Fayette and Westmoreland).
The hearing was very informative. Nearly all who testified — both those who supported the legislation and those who opposed it in some way — agreed that there are problems with the current electoral system, notably the role of money in the process. This consensus is significant and reflects the public’s belief in the corrupting influence of money in the process.
Testifying on behalf of the legislation were PMC and PMCAction’s Bob Heim, Lynn Marks and Shira Goodman; Dave Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association; and Charlotte Glauser of the League of Women Voters of PA. J. Whyatt Mondesire of the NAACP was scheduled to present testimony in support of Merit Selection but was unable to attend.
In the next few days, we will upload copies of the testimony presented at the hearing, but we offer a few highlights. Bob Heim, Chair of PMC, focused on the need for reform and the importance of getting judges out of the fundraising business. He highlighted the public’s growing concern that money can influence judicial decisionmaking and called on the legislature to allow Pennsylvanians to decide whether to change the way we select appellate court judges.
Charlotte Glauser of the League of Women Voters of PA explained the League’s long standing support for Merit Selection, urging “Passage of these bills will do much to restore the public image of independence of Pennsylvania’s appellate court system.”
PMA’s Dave Taylor explained that Merit Selection would “improve the professionalism, integrity, and independence of the judicial branch of goverment.” Taylor explained:
By combining elements of elective and appointive systems for nominating our appellate court judges, Pennsylvania can uphold the professionalism of the courts and protect our jurists from the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise from political fundraising and campaigning.
Testifying in opposition were Tom Foley III of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Association of Trial Lawyers), Professor Michael Dimino of Widener University, and Rick Bloomingdale, Secretary Treasuer of the AFL-CIO. Professor Dimino actually endorsed a Merit Selection for the Superior and Commonwealth Courts and even for the trial level courts, but argued against Merit Selection for the Supreme Court.
Rick Bloomingdale of the AFL-CIO noted the organization’s current opposition to the legislation, but expressed a willingness to support an amended version of a Merit Selection plan. This is significant, and we are hopeful that as the Committee considers the bill, we can work with our traditional partners and with groups such as the AFL-CIO to design the best system of judicial selection for the Pennsylvania appellate courts.
In a publicly released letter to bill sponsor Matt Smith, Governor Rendell again expressed his strong support for Merit Selection:
I have said on many occasions that our system of electing appellate judges makes no sense. It is no secret that there is great concern in Pennsylvania about the role of money in judicial elections. Current law could allow judicial candidates to accept indirect contributions from lawyers and special interest groups that may eventually have to argue a case before that judicial candidate. It is no wonder that Pennsylvanians have been losing faith in our courts and our judges.
PMC and PMCAction are grateful to the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Courts for the opportunity to present public testimony at yesterday’s hearing. We thank the bill sponsors, Representatives Smith and Will Gabig (R, Cumberland), for their leadership as well as all the representatives who attended the hearing. We look forward to working together to achieve a better way for Pennsylvanians to select appellate court judges.
, Bob Heim
, Charlotte Glauser
, Dave Taylor
, Deberah Kula
, Don Walko
, Glen Grell
, Governor Rendell
, J. Whatt Mondesire
, Joseph Petrarca
, Josh Shapiro
, Kate Harper
, Kathy Manderino
, League of Women Voters of PA
, Lynn Marks
, Matt Smith
, Mike Dimino
, Mike Vereb
, Pennsylvania Association for Justice
, Pennsylvania Manufacturer's Association
, Rick Bloomingdale
, Shira Goodman
, Tom Creighton
, Tom Foley III
, Widener University
, Will Gabig