Pennsylvania House Panel Advances Merit Selection Bill, JAS Applauds

Pennsylvania_quarter,_reverse_side,_1999The latest scandal allegations swirling around the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab) have fueled calls for reform. On Tuesday, a state House committee took a step in that direction, toward a merit-based system for choosing top judges. Justice at Stake applauded the action.

“The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-11 on Tuesday to start the process of amending the state constitution to end the practice of electing judges to the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts,” the Associated Press reported. The vote advances a measure to establish a merit selection system. It would have to win approval by two successive legislatures, and then from state voters, to take effect.

Liz Seaton, interim JAS executive director, said in a statement, “This step forward for an important judicial reform in Pennsylvania is extremely timely. It comes as the state is in the final weeks of what could be record high spending in a contested judicial election, and not long after a campaign-related scandal forced a Justice from the bench. We applaud Pennsylvania for taking a leadership role in moving toward a merit selection system that will mitigate the influence of money and politics in the courts.”

Said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Moderns Courts, at the PMC website, “Today is a victory for fair courts. This is the perfect storm for reform. We are in the midst of a historic Supreme Court election with vacancies caused by the bad behavior of justices, millions of dollars of campaign contributions by special interests, negative ads, and public confidence of the court system severely tarnished. We are heartened that legislators of both parties agree that it’s time for change.”

Details of the proposal that came before the Pennsylvania legislative committee were reported by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The Center and PMC are JAS partner organizations.