Should Pennsylvania Judges Be ‘Elected’ or ‘Selected’?

"This judge is gonna deliver the most badass rulings."

"This judge is gonna deliver the most badass rulings."

Quick. Who was the last judge you voted for?

If your answer was, “How the hell should I know?” then congratulations, you are the crowd the co-sponsors of Pennsylvania House Bills 1815 and 1816 are catering to. Those bills, recently gaining steam in Harrisburg, would get rid of the current system Pennsylvania employs, in which judges are elected by the people.

Instead, they’d create what some have called a “hybrid” system: a citizen-based diverse commission of lawyers and non-lawyers which would select a list of nominees for judgeships, then hand them to the governor, who would, in turn, select the most qualified candidates.

The system we currently employ is one in which judges essentially run for office like any other politician. And in so doing, as noted by the Urban League in March, “Only once has an African American been elected to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court,” according to the group’s testimony. “Moreover, there have been no justices or appellate judges of Hispanic or Asian descent.”

As noted by Politics Daily, “candidates for high courts raised $206.4 million for campaigns from 2000 through 2009, more than double the previous decade.” And in Pennsylvania in 2007 alone, the four candidates running for the state Supreme Court raised nearly $8 million. “[C]ampaign money is often donated by lawyers and law firms that can later argue cases before the same judges they helped get elected.” We are one of six states that choose all judges in pure partisan elections. Though, generally, states are moving away from this and similar systems.

The bills, continue the Urban League, offer “opportunities for qualified candidates without access to money and from diverse backgrounds to reach the bench. No person is excluded from the process due to a lack of resources or political connections.”

The ideas in the bills are also backed by “Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts,” though opposed by groups like the American Family Association of Pennsylvania.

2 Responses to “ Should Pennsylvania Judges Be ‘Elected’ or ‘Selected’? ”

  1. art kyriazis says:

    I am strongly in favor of the current system which allows the people to vote on who their judges will be.

    Every single poll and vote every taken on this subject agrees on this.

    In fact, to the extent that any polling has ever been taken on the subject, the people are in favor of limiting judicial terms and having retention elections for federal judges as well, though clearly this would fly in the face of Article III and the Federalist Papers.

    Nonetheless, the people like electing Judges and there is no compelling reason to think that an appointive system will generate better or higher quality Judges.

    To say otherwise would be to insult the Judiciary of Pennsylvania, which is outstanding and excellent, well-educated and learned. They are in no way, shape or form inferior to the Judges of our sister states New Jersey, Delaware or any other state that has an appointive Judiciary, which is what PMC and other advocates of appointive Judicial systems imply.

    Morever, in no way are our state Judges in any way inferior in learning or qualifications to our Federal Judges, who are appointed, and in fact, the vast majority of our Federal Judiciary are, in fact, drawn from our Common Pleas Court system.

    If elected Judges are so unqualified, why is it that Presidents, year after year, draw on the elected Judiciary of the various Common Pleas Courts of the various Counties to find their nominations for the various District Courts?????

    It is because in order to be elected a Judge in PA, you need to be of the highest ethical and academic character, and of the finest learned disposition.

    PA has the oldest state judicial system in the nation–older than the United States itself.

    We should not mess around with antiquity and excellence.

    Very truly yours,

    Art Kyriazis

  2. Mason says:

    The election of judges turns them into politicians. Exactly what they are not supposed to be.

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