Berman & Asbel, LLP

Are partisan elections the best way to choose judges in Pennsylvania?

Today is what some might call an off-off-year election.   Here in Pennsylvania we are electing local offices and judges.  If anyone asks me, choosing judges by popular vote is not a good idea.  A judge, unlike a legislator or a governor or a president, is not supposed to respond to or be accountable to the popular will.  A judge's job is to uphold, enforce and interpret the law.   The rules of ethics which apply to judges make it rather difficult to have any substantive debate among opposing candidates.  When I read about judicial candidate positions or see a debate, the subject matter seems to be about administrative skills or rules of procedure and I get the strong sense that most voters have little opportunity to know much about these candidates.

In my view, the state constitution should be amended to provide that all judges, at every level in the state court system, be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate - similar to the federal process.  Potential judges would still be rated by bar associations and other bodies before confirmation is considered.  To keep some popular will involved, the appointments could be for the same 10 year term that judges get now when elected.  At the end of the 10 year term, a judge would face a retention election - a yes or no vote on whether that judge should be retained for another 10 year term.

Pennsylvania currently has retention elections and they generally are non-partisan in nature.  It is rare that a serious attempt is made to unseat a judge in a retention election and it should only be in unusual cases that a judge is denied retention.  If the no vote prevails, then that judgeship would be vacant and a new judge would be nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Just my opinion.

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