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Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20150&cosponId=20355
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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: June 7, 2016 11:12 AM
From: Representative Russ Diamond
To: All House members
Subject: Reforming and Regionalizing Pennsylvania’s Appellate Courts
 
There has been a major effort in recent years aimed at abandoning Pennsylvania’s tradition of electing appellate court judges in the interest of “reform.” Supporters of so-called “merit selection” cite numerous justifications for their efforts to turn judges and justices into political appointees rather than directly elected servants of the people.

It should be noted that the right to elect judges in Pennsylvania was fully secured by constitutional changes ratified by voters after the constitutional convention of 1874, which was initiated in response to rampant corruption throughout Pennsylvania’s state government. Electing judges and justices was viewed as a reformation of a politically charged appointive system existing at that time.

As such, returning to an appointive system would be a step backward in Pennsylvania, and simply trades one political system for another – where the reasons for any individual becoming an appellate court judge or justice would no longer be subject to the will of the voters or the public scrutiny of Pennsylvania’s campaign finance reporting system.

There are ways to address the concerns of “merit selection” advocates without taking the extreme step of stripping the rights of Pennsylvania’s voters. One of their top reasons for “reform” is that voters allegedly cannot become familiar enough with statewide judicial candidates to cast a truly informed vote. A more logical and reasonable remedy to this perceived problem would be to stop electing appellate court judges and justices on a statewide basis and instead dividing the Commonwealth into judicial electoral districts.

As such, in the near future I will be introducing a joint resolution to amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to change the way we elect appellate court judges. Specifically, my legislation (if ultimately ratified by voters) would divide the Commonwealth into nine (9) Commonwealth Court districts, fifteen (15) Superior Court districts, and seven (7) Supreme Court districts.

These districts would be defined by the General Assembly following the redistricting principles found in our Constitution, requiring populations as equal as possible in each district with compact and contiguous geographic boundaries, and would comport with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Eleven other states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin) select judges and justices for either some or all of their appellate courts via regional judicial district elections.

The current proposal for “merit selection” is an extreme measure that would sever the right to vote. It would place the fate of the judicial branch into the hands of the other two branches of government, where partisanship reigns supreme. It could easily lead to backroom political deals and quite possibly a return to the corruption of long ago. It would create a closed feedback loop wherein the attorneys who dominate its 13-member Appellate Court Nominating Commission will continue to practice law only at the whim of the candidates they select for nomination for the Supreme Court.

The law belongs to the people, not just politicians and those who practice law.

My legislation would preserve the right of the people to select their judges and justices. It would maintain public scrutiny by keeping judicial candidates within Pennsylvania’s campaign finance reporting system. It would guarantee that the diversity of the Commonwealth, and the uniqueness of its various regions would be more accurately reflected in the appellate courts and their rulings.

I urge you to join me in preserving the right to elect judges and justices and taking the first step toward reforming our judicial system by cosponsoring this joint resolution.

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Introduced as HB2210