"What's black and white and read all over?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Posted 7:45 PM by

Appointing Pa. appelate judges a really bad idea

If state judges seem corrupt now, just wait until their appointed and there's little accountability to voters.As bad as the judiciary can be in Pennsylvania - and I'm talking supremely bad in the case of our highest court, the one thing you could always say is we're the ones who elected them.

Maybe not for long, though.

Proponents of appointing statewide appeals courts judges launched a new effort Tuesday and plan to introduce bills in both the House and the Senate to make it a reality.

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and other groups propose merit selection for Supreme Court justices and judges on the Superior and Commonwealth courts. County judges would remain elected.

The proposed legislation would create a 14-member public commission to screen applicants for a list of potential nominees for the governor to consider. The governor would submit a choice from that list to the Senate, and judges who get confirmed would face an up-or-down retention election four years later and every decade afterward.

The idea of merit selection has garnered support from Gov. Ed Rendell, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

But former gubernatorial candidate and activist Russ Diamond is against it because the people on the commission recommending names to the governor would themselves be subject to a politicized appointment process.

I couldn't agree more.

I think we've seen quite enough of our elected elite serve themselves through appointees that owe them homage. Just look at the loyal old boys/girls network that runs our state Gaming Control Board. It's high-powered patronage run amok.

Bending and subverting the judiciary to the will of the highly partisan Legislature is no improvement. In fact, it's a complete betrayal of our state Constitution, which mandated that voters elect those who will eventually judge them.

That's not to say that the current system couldn't use some tweaking.

For instance, I'm all in favor of fundraising limits for judiciary candidates, an idea that's been kicked around in Harrisburg for more than 20 years.

But going hand and hand with that, both the bar association and the state Supreme Court must lift their prohibition on judicial candiates from expressing their political views.

The legal limitations on what judge candidates can say has made their campaigns more of a popularity contest than "American Idol." Statewide judge candidates sell themselves to raise millions to spend on TV and radio ads just to get some voter identification before election day.

Or as Lynn Marks, executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said today, "I'm not saying that any of these judges are influenced, but the perception out there is staggering."

Personally, I'd rather have judges oweing loyalty and possible favors to a few private sector special interests than consistently bowing to the will of their lawmaker patrons.

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