Republican and Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill calling for a move to merit selection for judges of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts. Pennsylvania is currently one of nine states that chooses appellate judges in partisan elections, and one of three states in which judges chosen in contested elections stand in retention elections to keep their seats. The proposed constitutional amendment would replace partisan elections with a commission-based gubernatorial appointment and senate confirmation process. Amending the constitution requires approval in two consecutive legislative sessions followed by voter approval. The proposal also has bipartisan support from former governors Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge, among others.
The time may be right for selection reform in the state. According to a recent survey, 73 percent of Pennsylvanians do not believe that the most qualified candidates win judicial elections, and 76 percent believe that campaign contributions influence judicial decision making. Reform advocates also point to the fact that voter turnout in the judicial elections held earlier this month was below 10 percent in some counties and averaged 14 to 17 percent statewide.