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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: January 14, 2021 02:08 PM
From: Representative Paul Schemel
To: All House members
Subject: Merit Selection of Statewide Appellate Court Judges & Judicial Reform (Prior HB 111)

In the near future, I plan to reintroduce a constitutional amendment to change the way statewide appellate court judges are chosen by replacing partisan judicial elections with a merit selection system.

Merit selection is a hybrid elective-appointive system. This change would apply only to the three statewide appellate courts: Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. Judges on the courts of common pleas, magisterial district courts, and Philadelphia Municipal Court would still be elected as they are now.

In a merit selection system, a bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission of lawyers and non-lawyers selected by elected officials reviews applicants’ qualifications and recommends a short list to the Governor for nomination. After Senate confirmation, the judge sits for a four year term before standing for nonpartisan retention election for a full 10 year term, and then every 10 years thereafter.

Merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial, and qualified judiciary. Merit selection focuses on qualifications: legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament. Appellate court judges would no longer be chosen based on their ballot position, campaign fundraising abilities, or where they live. Judicial candidates would no longer be required to engage in a process that leaves them seemingly beholden to wealthy lawyers and special interest groups who might appear before them in court. Removing money from our courtrooms helps to increase public confidence in the courts.

The Appellate Court Nominating Commission would consist of 13 members:
  • 5 appointed by the Governor (no more than 3 from one party; 5 different counties);
  • 8 by the General Assembly (2 from each of 4 caucus leaders, half lawyers and half lay people).
  • Commonwealth employees, elected or appointed officials, and political party officials would be prohibited from serving.
  • Appointing authorities would consider that members should reflect the geographic, gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the Commonwealth.
Implementing legislation with more details, as the General Assembly deems necessary or desirable, would be introduced in the future.

Introduced as HB263