Feb 19 2008

Why We Need Merit Selection

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Merit Selection offers Pennsylvanians a better way to select appellate judges. Merit Selection is specifically designed to get the most qualified judges on the bench.

Merit Selection is the best way to select judges because it:

  • Ensures that only the most qualified candidates reach the bench:

Unlike the current system, which permits any Pennsylvania lawyer to run for a seat on the appellate courts, Merit Selection sets forth certain criteria regarding skill, experience, and character that potential judges must satisfy. This ensures that anyone who becomes an appellate court judge is qualified for the position.

  • Eliminates the need for prospective judges to raise money to fund campaigns:

By removing money and campaigning from the process of picking judges, Merit Selection brings us judges chosen based on their experience, qualifications and reputation, rather than on who had the biggest war chest or was the best campaigner.

Currently, much of the money contributed to judicial campaigns comes from lawyers, law firms and other organizations that frequently appear in the state courts.  Stripping money from the selection process eliminates the possibility that lawyers or parties who donate big money to a judicial campaign will be arguing a case before that same judge after he or she reaches the bench. This contributes to public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and the fairness of our courts.

  • Eliminates the influence of random factors like ballot position, name recognition and fundraising success:

Let’s face it, judicial elections don’t always get a lot of attention in the media, so even people who are very interested in the political process are often not well-versed on the qualifications and records of those running for judge. Because of this, people often use other factors to make decisions in the voting booth. Merit Selection removes the influence of random factors and eliminates the possibility that judges will be chosen based on their surname, gender, ballot position, or the most convincing advertising campaign.

  • Values diversity among those involved in the selection process and those who reach the bench:

Elections don’t provide pathways to the bench for those without access to money or political backing, nor for those from racially diverse backgrounds.  Merit Selection enables qualified men and women from different backgrounds, with diverse professional and personal experiences, and from different races and ethnicities the opportunity to be considered for a judicial vacancy. The nominating commission will evaluate all who apply.

  • Gives the final say to the public through the use of regular nonpartisan retention elections:

After reaching the bench through the Merit Selection process, a judge will serve an initial term of four years and then stand before the public in a yes/no retention election. The public will make the ultimate decision about whether the judge stays on the bench. The voters will be able to base their decision on the record the judge has amassed during that term: how has the judge been viewed by attorneys and parties coming before the court; has the judge gained a reputation for being fair and impartial; have the judge’s opinions received favorable review as scholarly, insightful, easy to understand? If retained, the judge will serve for a ten year term, after which he or she may seek to stand for retention again. If a judge isn’t retained, the Merit Selection process will begin again with the nominating commission soliciting applications for the vacancy.

If you support merit selection in Pennsylvania, please complete and return the Supporter Form.

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