Judging on the Merits

Choosing judges based on the only standard that matters

HB111 is legislation that proposes a merit selection system for Pennsylvania’s appellate courts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court comprise the appellate courts.

This legislation proposes a commission that would choose applicants based on their qualifications and experience and not based on their social or political connections or how much money they can raise to run for a judgeship. The bill details how the commission is selected and how nominees are identified and eventually confirmed by the PA Senate.

Beyond the initial confirmation, voters will decide which members of the judiciary will be retained for ten years after their initial four-year term.

Merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial and qualified judiciary. I have been a supporter of a merit system before serving as a state representative. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation and am encouraging many of my colleagues to give this legislation their thoughtful consideration. Last session this bill was voted out of committee and was amended on 2nd consideration on the House floor. The bill went no further.

Two thirds of the states select some or all their judges under such a system. I hope that during this period of heightened citizen involvement we see a groundswell to push through this legislation in Pennsylvania.

Currently, judges at all levels campaign for their positions and in order to campaign, money must be raised. Some of the largest contributors to judicial races are attorneys, who subsequently may appear before the successful judicial candidates in court. Some voters may make the argument that we operate under a form of government that gives citizens choice and the choice of judge is no different than electing someone to Congress, or the State Senate, or State House, or City Council. The reality is, rarely do citizens have the time or background to evaluate judicial candidates and to evaluate their credentials sufficiently to make that choice.

Judges make life and death decisions that affect citizens, and they interpret laws. Citizens should want the most qualified candidates to sit on the bench at all levels of the judiciary. Under our current system of voting for judges, I use the Philadelphia Bar Association’s list of recommended candidates. This list is available in the weeks leading up to the primary.

The Committee of Seventy website is also a great resource to consult before voting.

I am often surprised how many judicial candidates are endorsed by a political party who are ‘not recommended’ by the bar. There is an election coming up in May. It is imperative that all citizens vote and make the most knowledgeable decisions possible when casting their ballots.

Mark May 21st on Your Calendar

May 21st is this year’s Primary Election Day. Election Day occurs two times a year although you would not know it by the historical turnout in non-Presidential election years. However, this past November’s General Election demonstrated that citizens are paying attention differently as evidenced by an almost 50% turnout nationally and numbers equally strong locally.

See you at the polls!

Speak Up and Stay Informed

Thoughts? Suggestions? Concerns? Make your voice heard by visiting my office at 6511 Ridge Avenue or calling (215) 482-8726. Walk-ins always welcome.

About Pam DeLissio 43 Articles
Representative Pamela A. DeLissio serves the 194th Legislative District, which includes East Falls.

1 Comment

  1. But aren’t merit selection panels subject to the same abuse, potential corruption, and political patronage that makes so many other bureaucratic entities such a problem for citizens. Merit selection would just end up favoring the politically connected. The current political sysytem in and around Philadelphia has nothing to do with actual political position and everything do do with who you know. You are either a political insider and get endorsements from the Democratic Party boss, or you don’t get elected. Do you really think that same political machine would not corrupt “merit” selection panels? Look at what the politically connected firm Pond Lehocky just did to a workers’ compensation judge that didn’t rule in their favor, and check out how many of their attorneys are currently on different Supreme Court committees—including the ethics committee.

    Allowing judges to be elected by constituents instead of having the politically connected appoint judges is similar to our jury system. Sure, the jury, just like the voters, may not know, or understand all of the details, but don’t underestimate a juror or a voter, they understand fairness. Taking away the right of voters to elect judges is an insulting form of paternalism. Instead, why not work harder to educate the voters about the qualifications of judicial candidates?

    Sorry for the rant. Just my $0.02.

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