State government is back to the issue of “merit selection” of appellate court judges.
It’s a shell game.
Instead of voters choosing from a bevy of unknown Pittsburgh/Philadelphia candidates plus a token aspirant or two from rural counties, House Bill 111 would create a 13-member commission to select judges.
Who would appoint the members of the commission?
The governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly.
Those “leaders” include ex-Sen. Vince Fumo, convicted of corruption; ex-Rep. Bill DeWeese, who served as Speaker, convicted of abusing public money for campaign purposes; ex-Rep. John Perzel, also a former Speaker, convicted of theft; ex-Sen. Jane Orie, convicted of forgery and obstruction of justice; ex-Rep. Michael Veon, another “leader,” convicted of theft for misusing public money; ex-Sen. Bob Mellow, another “leader,” convicted in connection with a Turnpike pay-to-play scandal.
Do we want Legislative leaders selecting the judges who, according to recent history, would preside at the trials of more elected scofflaws?
Voters should continue to choose those judges.
There are better ways of doing that than what we now do.
We hold at-large statewide elections for the seven on the Supreme Court, the 14 on the Superior Court and the 12 on the Commonwealth Court.
State Rep. Russ Diamond from Lebanon County near Harrisburg opposes “merit selection,” He too sees a better methodology: Elect appellate court jurists by districts, akin to how we now choose legislators. Most of us in the Tri-County Area have at least a passing acquaintance with state Rep. Matt Gabler of Treasure Lake, Rep. Cris Dush of Brookville, Rep. Tommy Sankey of Osceola Mills, etc. They are local, or nearly so.
Let Pittsburghers choose Pittsburghers. Let Philadelphians choose Philadelphians. Let us choose appellate judges as we choose state senators or U.S. House members, by districts.
In the Pennsylvania Senate, another Harrisburg area lawmaker, state Sen. Ryan Aument, has introduced another bill that would elect appellate jurists by districts.
That is the way to go.
Voters are not perfect. We gave ourselves Trump and nearly gave ourselves Hillary.
But we don’t have a rogue’s gallery of perp walkers sullying the “leaders” in the Legislature, either.
Let’s continue to elect appellate court jurists. Let’s do so by districts that give us a chance to know something about the qualifications of the candidates besides the three current criteria for success: Ballot position, county of residence and political affiliation.
— Denny Bonavita