Editorial: Say yes to merit selection

Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans can’t agree on much in Har­ris­burg or Wash­ing­ton, but there is at least one note­worthy bill in the state le­gis­lature that en­joys bi­par­tis­an sup­port.

State Reps. Bri­an Sims, a Cen­ter City Demo­crat, and Bry­an Cut­ler, a Lan­caster County Re­pub­lic­an, want to scrap statewide ju­di­cial elec­tions and ap­point judges on mer­it. They make a val­id case.

Cut­ler said voter turnout, name iden­ti­fic­a­tion and fun­drais­ing abil­ity are not the right ways to de­term­ine statewide ju­di­cial seats.

Sims points out that turnout in the Nov. 5 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,” he said.

Sims poin­ted out that mer­it se­lec­tion tran­scends party lines and geo­graph­ic­al di­vides. Gov. Tom Corbett, an Al­legheny County Re­pub­lic­an, and former GOP Govs. Tom Ridge, of Erie County, and Mark Sch­weiker, of Bucks County, are on board.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Phil­adelphia Demo­crat, has backed the is­sue since be­com­ing dis­trict at­tor­ney in 1978.

Susan Carty, pres­id­ent of the League of Wo­men Voters of Pennsylvania, said mer­it se­lec­tion leads to an im­par­tial, in­de­pend­ent and un­en­cumbered ju­di­ciary.

Lynn Marks, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Pennsylvani­ans for Mod­ern Courts, notes that it doesn’t make sense to have a totally par­tis­an pro­cess like a ju­di­cial elec­tion to de­term­ine who wins a job that, by law, must be non­par­tis­an. And, she adds, at­tor­neys and spe­cial-in­terest groups fund these cam­paigns, and they are the very people who of­ten ap­pear in state courts.

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

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. Voters, if giv­en the chance, should over­whelm­ingly ap­prove. ••

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