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March 28, 2007

Bar Association Applauds Governor's Proposal for Merit Selection of Judges

The 13,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association applauded Gov. Edward G. Rendell's announcement on March 26 proposing an appointment-based system to replace the current system of electing Pennsylvania appellate court judges.

"We commend the Governor for taking this important step and look forward to working with him and the Legislature in finalizing this proposed Constitutional amendment for consideration by the citizens of Pennsylvania," said Association Chancellor Jane Dalton.

Calling the current system "a terrible process" for selecting judges, the Chancellor noted that the state's system of electing judicial candidates is based on an appearance of "pay-to-play" tactics that force those candidates to accept contributions from lawyers and special interest groups that will, one day, argue cases before them.

"That is the opposite of everything we stand for in a fair justice system," Dalton said.

The Philadelphia Bar Association has long been involved in advocating for a merit-based appointment system of choosing judges, and is committed to being part of a productive process to accomplish that goal, the Chancellor said.

The Governor’s proposal for merit selection would replace the current election of state appellate court judges with a system that requires nominations from the Governor based on a list of judges recommended for appointment by an Appellate Court Nominating Commission. Nominees would require Senate confirmation.

The Commission would include four members who are appointed by the Governor, four members who are appointed by the General Assembly, and six members of the public, one of whom would be a dean of a Pennsylvania law school chosen by the deans of all Pennsylvania law schools. The remaining public representatives would be selected from nominations made by business organizations, civic organizations, professional associations, public safety organizations and unions.

The earliest a proposal requiring an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution could be put before voters would be November 2009. That date assumes that the current General Assembly will first adopt the proposals by June 2008 and the next General Assembly adopts them by June 2009.

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