Pennsylvania’s Judicial Selection System in Need of Reform, Says Report

A Call for Change in Pennsylvania Judicial Selection
By: John Smith
Real Clear Pennsylvania

The selection process for appellate judges in Pennsylvania has long been a topic of debate and criticism. Many argue that the current system, which involves partisan political elections, leads to judges who may not be entirely free from political bias and influence. In fact, it has been noted that Pennsylvania has been fortunate in securing excellent judges despite the flaws in the current system.

The cost of appellate judicial races in Pennsylvania is also a cause for concern. The 2023 Supreme Court campaign alone cost approximately $22 million, which is more than the budget allocated for all Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and staff salaries combined. This raises questions about the fairness and equitability of the current electoral system for judicial selection.

Efforts have been made over the years to change the system to a nonpartisan merit-selection process, but these attempts have been unsuccessful. There have been suggestions to auction state court seats and funnel the money to public schools, emphasizing the need for a more transparent and equitable process for judicial selection in Pennsylvania.

The recent judicial election cycle saw candidates running on hot-button issues such as abortion, election law, and mail-in voting, which are likely to be brought before the state supreme court. This raises concerns about the independence of the judiciary, as judges are expected to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, as stated in the Pennsylvania judicial code of ethics.

One proposed solution to address the issue of overt partisanship in judicial selection is the establishment of an Appellate Judicial Commission, also known as merit selection. This commission would consist of attorneys elected by the state bar association, members selected by the legislature, and citizens chosen by the governor, with an equal number of members representing each of the geographic appellate districts.

Another suggestion is a modified merit system, where voters would elect the commissioners. This would aim to prevent judicial candidates from being entangled in partisan politics, mitigate the influence of money in the selection process, and ensure a fairer and more transparent system for choosing judges.

In both cases, there is a need for serious consideration and consensus on the details of the proposed reforms. The selection of higher court judges is a matter that requires careful attention and a commitment to promoting fairness and impartiality in the judiciary.

In conclusion, the debate about the judicial selection process in Pennsylvania continues, with calls for reform to ensure a more transparent, fair, and nonpartisan system for choosing judges. This article was originally published by RealClearPennsylvania and made available via RealClearWire.

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