Sims and Cutler Want Merit Selection of PA Judges

Today State Reps. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster; and Brian Sims, D-Phila., have introduced legislation to establish a merit-based system for appointing statewide judges.

Cutler said, “I believe that it is time to have a conversation about how we select our judges. I personally believe that the integrity of our justice system requires that we select judges based on more than voter turn-out, name ID, or fundraising ability. I believe we should be looking for the members of the bar with the highest qualifications, not just the best political skills.”

PA State Rep. Brian Sims

PA State Rep. Brian Sims

“The people have shown year after year that most of them aren’t that attached to electing judges – the turnout in last week’s election was below 10 percent in some counties, and only an estimated 14 to 17 percent statewide. It’s time to remove partisan politics and campaign contributions from selecting our judiciary and implement a merit-based system for choosing Pennsylvania’s statewide judges,” Sims said.

“As you can see from the folks backing this effort, merit selection transcends party lines and geographical divides and pursues just one, clear goal: placing the most qualified and competent jurists in the courtroom,” Sims said.

“Changing the way we select judges is important for the integrity of the courts and is what the people of this state deserve,” former Gov. Tom Ridge said. “State lawmakers must do what is right for our judicial system. We can’t allow time to continue to slip by with a system that needs to be fixed.”

Former Gov. Ed Rendell said, “A merit selection system with citizen participation will elevate the justice system in Pennsylvania and take it out of the political and fundraising environment. I’ve been in favor of adopting this system since my days as District Attorney in 1978.”

Merit selection would be a hybrid elective-appointive system. A bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission of lawyers and non-lawyers selected by elected officials would review applicants’ qualifications and recommend a short list to the governor for nomination. After Senate confirmation, a judge sits for a short term before standing for a non-partisan retention election.

Merit selection would focus on qualifications: legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament. Judges could no longer be chosen according to their ballot position, campaign fundraising abilities, or other irrelevant factors.

The constitutional amendment would establish an Appellate Court Nominating Commission made up of 15 members: six appointed by the governor (no more than half from one party, each member from a different county, must include two retired judges); eight by the General Assembly (chosen by the majority and minority leaders of both houses); and one by the attorney general. Registered lobbyists, elected or appointed officials, officers in any political party or organization, as well as staff and family members of the appointers would be prohibited from serving.

Since the bill is a proposed state constitutional amendment, it must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions and then go before the people in a public referendum. Additional implementing legislation with more details will be introduced in the future.

The legislators were joined at today’s news conference by other supporters of the bill, including Rep. Pamela DeLissio, D-Phila./Montgomery.

“Change needs to be legislated in order to ensure integrity regarding how judges are selected. I support these reforms because they envision a bipartisan, citizen nominating commission as opposed to the current system of campaigning and the need to solicit campaign contributions,” DeLissio said.

Lynn Marks, executive director, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts said, “Judges are different from officials in the legislative and executive branches so it makes sense to select them differently. Judges must decide cases solely on the facts and the law, not based on political considerations, platforms or constituencies. It just doesn’t make sense to have a totally partisan process for a nonpartisan job. And the problem with money in judicial races is that most of the money comes from attorneys and special interests that often appear in state courts.”

“The League of Women Voters vigorously supports the merit selection system for selecting statewide, appellate judges,” said Susan Carty, president, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvanians deserve to have their faith restored. They deserve to believe their judges are impartial, independent and unencumbered.”

Pennsylvania’s governors from the past 18 years, from both parties, support merit selection, including Pennsylvania’s current governor.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: