The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently published an article about proposed legislation to change the Pennsylvania judicial selection process. Two state representatives of Pennsylvania have introduced a bill to move the state from a partisan election system to a merit selection process. Under the merit selection process, a pre-established commission vets judicial candidates, the governor picks nominees from the finalists provided by the commission, and the state senate confirms or rejects the nominees.
IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis was interviewed in the article about the proposed legislation and the benefits of merit selection. She noted that the Pennsylvania proposal contains the front-end nominating commission process endorsed by IAALS as the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan. Kourlis also suggested that judicial selection has become a hot topic recently because people have less confidence in the judiciary, which is seen now as a political entity instead of as unbiased arbiters who base decisions solely upon the law and facts. That perception is aggravated by partisan political elections, which position judges as political candidates and require them to raise money and campaign on the issues. The O’Connor Plan process is intended to elevate unbiased judges to the bench who are not caught up in the political fray. The Pennsylvania proposal, like the O’Connor Plan, creates an ideologically balanced commission that determines the best candidates for the job based on their professional skills, experience, and credentials, rather than on political affiliation or campaign ads.
IAALS’ Quality Judges Initiative worked with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to develop the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan, which is a model for judicial selection that attempts to balance impartiality with accountability. The various pieces of the Plan can be adopted anywhere.