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'Merit selection' for Pa. appellate judges? No, thank you

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Sunday, March 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Citing state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's public-corruption conviction while advocating for a group called Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, four former governors' support for so-called “merit selection” of state appellate judges proves only that bad ideas know no partisan bounds.

Their rationale for denying Pennsylvanians the right to choose such judges via the ballot box is rich in hubris.

First, say Republicans Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh and Democrats Ed Rendell and George Leader, voters are too ignorant to make informed choices. But if that's the case, why have elections for any public offices at all?

Second is what the four consider lawyers' undue influence, via campaign contributions, on elected appellate judges they later appear before in court. But how would entrusting selection to a commission of gubernatorial and legislative appointees, some of whom would have to be lawyers, plus others nominated by groups — again, think lawyers — reduce that influence?

The Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino says merit selection would leave judicial choice up to “an unaccountable commission dominated by lawyers and special interest groups.” And, she reminds, Tennessee, Kansas and Oklahoma are moving to end merit selection.

Merit selection would require amending the Pennsylvania Constitution. And that would require, first, passage of the proposed amendment in two consecutive sessions of the state Legislature, then, approval in a public referendum.

Oh, the irony there, eh?

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