|Posted:||September 8, 2021 09:22 AM|
|From:||Representative Russ Diamond|
|To:||All House members|
|Subject:||Abolishing Judicial Retention Elections|
|When the House returns to session, I will introduce a joint resolution to amend Article V, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This section of the Constitution provides for the judicial retention process for judges in the courts of common pleas, Commonwealth and Superior Courts and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Other judges, like magisterial district judges, must run for reelection at the end of their term.
If you are familiar with the retention process, you know that a judge merely files a declaration of candidacy for retention with the Department of State on the first Monday in January in the year before their term officially expires. The judge or justice’s name is then placed on a ballot (without party designation) at the municipal election in the year before the expiration of his/her term of office. The only question before the electors is whether to retain the judge or justice. If voters answer “yes,” then the judge or justice serves an additional ten years.
Fun fact: Since Pennsylvania adopted the “retention” model in the 1968 Constitution, only one jurist has ever NOT been retained. Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro was ousted in 2005 as a result of anti-pay raise sentiment and a newspaper investigation of expense abuse within the Supreme Court. Justice Nigro’s fate was not due to his judicial record, but to his misfortune of appearing on the ballot for retention in the wrong year.
It could be that the quality of jurists in Pennsylvania are such that every other jurist who has faced a retention vote was deserving of an additional ten-year term on the bench. Or, far more likely, electors simply don’t know enough about retention candidates and vote “yes,” because they don’t know a good reason to vote otherwise due to a lack of electoral contrast.
Among the 20 most populous states where judges and justices are elected to office, only three states (California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania) have adopted the “retention” model. Judges and justices in the other 17 states require these jurists to run for reelection.
My joint resolution would allow the people of Pennsylvania to decide whether to end the practice of judicial retention in the Commonwealth and put us in line with most other states that elect their judiciary. Moreover, requiring judges and justices to run for re-election would help voters be better informed about the quality of judicial candidates running for office.
Please join me in declaring retention elections a failed experiment by adding your name as a co-sponsor to this legislation.
Introduced as HB1904