Jun 15 2012

Shouldnt We Have the Right to Decide Whether to Change Our Constitution?

Published by under Merit Selection

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer examines the efforts to implement a Merit Selection system in Pennsylvania.  The article highlights Justice Orie Melvin’s indictment for allegedly using her state funded staff and resources for her election campaigns and notes that this is not the first time that one of Pennsylvania’s state judges has been in trouble.

But beyond the scandals, Pennsylvania’s current judicial election system creates other big problems.  Discussing one of the biggest, former Dean of Temple University, Beasley School of Law, Professor Robert Reinstein stated,

To run, you have to be willing to raise enormous amounts of money. To think that you can have this system with all this money floating around without compromising judicial independence is equivalent to believing in the Easter Bunny.”

Why in the wake of such problems did the House Judiciary Committee decide 13-12 to table the Merit Selection bill? The article explains that trial lawyers, anti-abortion activists and others oppose Merit Selection.

A pivotal development volume pills ejaculate VolumePills occurred June 1, when the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, an anti-abortion group, informed members of the House Judiciary Committee that it opposed the measure and would weigh members’ votes when making endorsements in the next election.”

Committee chairman Ron Marsico (R., Dauphin) who initially “believed he had enough votes to release the bill from committee, said the e-mail swayed several committee members to vote to table the measure.”

This Bill would have given voters the opportunity to decide in a referendum whether to adopt a Merit Selection System for the appellate courts.  Lynn Marks, executive director at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts observed,

‘The part that is ironic is that it is the groups that say we need to elect judges who are saying don’t

vote for this legislation.’ She added that those opponents are taking a very hard to defend position and are basically saying ‘we don’t want the people to have the right to change their constitution.’”

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Jul 19 2011

Arkansas Law Review Symposium on Judicial Elections: Rachel Caufield’s “The Curious Logic of Judicial Elections”

Rachel Caufield, Associate Professor at Drake University and Research Fellow at The American Judicature Society (a PMC partner), recently published an article, “The Curious Logic of Judicial Elections,” in the Arkansas Law Review Symposium Issue. Caufield expertly outlines the arguments surrounding judicial selection and describes the benefits of merit selection. She uses current research on judicial selections systems, scholastic perspectives, and historical background to inform her position. Of the many judicial selection myths that Caufield debunks, here are five that PMC found particularly interesting:

1. Justifying judicial elections based on an “almost mythical” democratic ideal finds little support from the goals of our founding fathers or the practices of other democratic nations.
2. To say that judges base decisions primarily on personal or political preferences ignores an overwhelmingly constraining force: the law.

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3. Although judicial decisions affect public policy, transforming judges into political representatives has the undesirable result of turning the judiciary into a “super legislature,” one which renders the separation of powers meaningless.
4. Despite accusations to the contrary, a 1993 study indicated that only 1% of nominating commissioners said political influences were “always part of commission deliberations;” 48% said they never were.
5. Recent research based on judicial evaluations and surveys demonstrates that “merit selected judges are superior in terms of fairness, competence, and overall quality.”

PMC applauds Caufield for her articulate and well-researched contribution to the Arkansas Law Review and agrees that merit selection is the best option for choosing our judges.

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Jul 15 2011

Something We Should Do in the Meantime

A Times-Tribune editorial asserts that although merit selection is the best way to select judges, strict disclosure requirements and clear recusal rules are necessary in the meantime. The author remembers the state Supreme Court race of 2009 in which politics played a central role. During the campaign, there was much concern that Democratic or Republican success in legislative redistricting depended upon the political party of the elected judge. “After such partisan wrangling during campaigns, the public is expected to believe that the judges who emerge from it are not affected by it.” The article predicts that these issues will come up again later this year if the Supreme Court rules on legislative redistricting. Furthermore, with the influx of special interest money, the independence of the judiciary – or at the very least public confidence in that independence – is threatened. “Until Pennsylvania finally gets around to merit selection, it should mandate comprehensive disclosure as the second-best option.” We agree.

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Jun 28 2011

Stricter Recusal Standards Offer Only Part of the Answer

A recent editorial in West Virgina’s The Charleston Gazette implores the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates to consider model recusal standards at its session in August. West Virginia has been at the center of conversations about recusal reform since 2009’s Caperton v. Massey. After a trial decision in favor of Caperton, Massey contributed $3 million to a judicial race that ultimately elected Justice Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court. The Caperton case stirred public skepticism of the court when the case came before the West Virginia Supreme Court and Justice Benjamin refused to recuse himself; the Court then ruled in favor of Massey, twice. Caperton appealed to the US Supreme Court arguing that Massey’s significant financial contributions during the 2004 judicial election was cause for Justice Benjamin’s recusal. The Supreme Court agreed, affirming the need for respect for, and impartiality of, the courts: “We conclude that there is a serious risk of actual bias – based on objective and reasonable perceptions – when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent.”

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According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, “Judicial election spending has spiraled out of control in the past decade, with high court candidates raising $206.9 million in 2000-2009, more than double the $83.3 million raised in the 1990s.” While clearer recusal standards will help to avoid corrupt results and hopefully regain the trust of the public, they do not address the root of the problem – that judicial elections, and their reliance on campaign contributions, create a climate of distrust. When candidates must raise money to run for the bench, elected judges may feel indebted to their contributors, and their decisions may affect the availability of future campaign funds. Furthermore, when the public watches a judge, who benefited from campaign contributions, rule in favor of that donor, trust is eroded regardless of the merits of the decision.  A June 15th New York Times editorial asked “Can Justice Be Bought?” Stricter recusal standards offer only part of the answer. Moving away from judicial elections and instead supporting a system that prioritizes a judge’s ability to analyze the law over his or her ability to raise money provides a more workable solution.

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Jun 27 2011

PMC’s Lynn Marks Promotes Merit Selection in Interview with FoxNews.com

In response to recent criticism that financial support from George Soros is an attempt to “stack the courts,” Executive Director Lynn Marks affirmed the virtue of merit selection in an interview with FoxNews.com. “Merit selection would end the money race and get judges out of the fundraising business.” Marks further critiqued judicial elections’ emphasis on political connections saying that potentially qualified candidates “don’t put their name in for nominations because they think they don’t have the political connections or access to dollars.” Politics play an especially significant role in Pennsylvania’s judicial elections in which candidates identify with either the Democratic or Republican Party and must raise huge amounts of money to win their races.

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Marks highlighted the need for merit selection for appellate courts explaining, “judges should resolve disputes based on evidence – they’re not supposed to be responsive to public pressure.” Contrary to assertions that appointment of judges through merit selection is undemocratic, merit selection actually requires that the public support it. As Marks said, “Merit selection requires a change in the Constitution, so a bill must… go before the public. So when people say, ‘oh, you’re changing the way we vote’ — yes, but only if the people want to change the way we vote.”

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May 20 2009

The Morning After Brings A Call for Reform

John Baer, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, greets the day after election day with this question: “Time to end electing judges?”  Answering his own question, Baer argues:

It has been long my contention that electing judges, especially statewide, is a joke. It strikes me even more so today. Pennsylvanians are filling six appellate judgeships this year. Yesterday’s ballot carried 22 candidates. I mean, come on.

First of all, it’s a crapshoot. Nobody’s heard of these people. So ballot position, geography (the ballot lists where candidates are from) and gender usually determine outcome. In other words, luck.

Then, Baer moves on to the money problem:

Also, judicial races are unseemly. Campaigns are funded by lawyers who later appear before the judges they help elect. So even apart from the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (or elephant) aspect of the process, electing judges begs for politics to influence justice.

Just the possibility that it will is enough to diminish faith in our courts.

Baer advocates for Pennsylvania to make a change and remove itself from the handful of states that elect all judges in partisan elections.  We agree with him and hope that Pennsylvanians will ultimately get to decide for themselves whether to find a better way to pick appellate court judges.

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Jun 18 2008

Support Merit Selection of Appellate Judges In Pennsylvania

Published by under Merit Selection,Site Info

JudgesOnMerit.org is a project of Pennsylvanians For Modern Courts and PMCAction. We believe that Merit Selection is a better way to choose Pennsylvania’s appellate judges.

Merit Selection provides pathways to the appellate bench for candidates of diverse backgrounds who are experienced lawyers and jurists.  Qualifications and skills are the key factors in determining who reaches the appellate bench in a Merit Selection system.

Merit Selection removes campaign donations from the judicial selection process, allowing appellate judges to be chosen based on their qualifications and experience. By getting judges out of the fundraising business, Merit Selection promises appellate courts free from the perception of potential bias toward campaign contributors.

If you’d like to add your name or organization to the growing list of supporters of Merit Selection in Pennsylvania, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out & return the Supporter Form, or contact us at info@pmcaction.org.

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Jun 09 2008

Another Call for Legislative Action

Published by under News

In his Philadelphia Daily News column, John Baer laments the lack of legislative action on various reform proposals. Baer notes that some reform measures passed, such as the Open Records law, but argues that “these merely bring Pennsylvania a few of the basics of a decent democracy. Efforts at real reform lie dying.”

Baer is correct. We’re approaching the summer recess with many issues still in a holding pattern. Several of these issues require constitutional a

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mendments, which must be passed before the summer recess in order to have enough time for the constitutionally-mandated publication to occur. This includes both legislative redistricting and Merit Selection of appellate judges.

There’s still time left for real reform. Legislative hearings where different groups could discuss Merit Selection would be an excellent step forward. As the pressure to pass the new budget becomes more urgent, its important that our state legislators know that we want reform to stay on the agenda. Tell them it’s not too late.

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Apr 29 2008

Call For Constitutional Reform in PA Includes Merit Selection

On Sunday, the Centre Daily Times called for Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider a constitutional convention. the Times says that “it is time to start over. It is time to recraft the document by which we govern ourselves, a document that has changed little in more than a century and a quarter.”

Although we’re hoping there will be a stand alone amendment to address Merit Selection for the appellate courts, we’re glad to see that the Times included Merit Selection of appellate judges in its list of necessary reforms.

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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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