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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 30, 2019 09:53 AM
From: Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. and Sen. Anthony H. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Modern Courts
In the near future, we will introduce 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, based on geographical areas. 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 laypeople).
  • 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.
Please join us in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.