Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell called on Wednesday for legislators to pass measures allowing for the merit selection of appellate court judges, and his remarks were applauded by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a partner of the Justice at Stake Campaign.
“The influence of big money in judicial elections has exploded in this decade, and it’s something we have to pay attention to because it has totally eroded public confidence in the judicial system,” Rendell said, according to an article in The Patriot-News.
Rendell said recent criminal charges lodged against state Sen. Jane Orie in connection with last year’s state Supreme Court race, along with the rapid growth in spending to elect appellate judges, are important reasons for switching to a merit selection system, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Orie and a sister, Janine Orie, were charged with using public resources to help elect another sister, Justice Joan Orie Melvin (see Gavel Grab). The charges would not have been filed if Supreme Court justices were not elected, the governor said.
In a press release, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts Executive Director Lynn A. Marks said, “Pennsylvanians are focused on the courts like never before, and, there is a growing sentiment that we are not using a selection system designed to get the most qualified, fair and independent judges on the appellate courts. Merit Selection is specifically designed to do so, while also getting judges out of the fundraising business.”
To enact merit selection would requiring amending Pennsylvania’s constitution, a process that requires passage by two successive legislatures followed by a public referendum.
“We hope the Governor’s call for action will be heeded so that Pennsylvanians can begin the process of deciding whether they want to change the way we select appellate court judges,” Marks said. “We hope Pennsylvanians will get the opportunity to decide.” You can learn more about merit selection by visiting Justice at Stake’s issues page on the topic.