MERIT SELECTION: Guvs Back It, But Voters May Not Like It

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BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Supporters of merit selection for Pennsylvania Judges are at it again. Gov. Ed Rendell was joined by former Govs. Mark Schweiker, Tom Ridge, and Dick Thornburgh recently to kick-start the taking away of voters’ right to choose Judges.
Each decried judicial elections and the fundraising they require as unfair and corrupting. Each said the better system was to let the State’s chief executive, translated “Governor”, appoint the most qualified person for the job. Rendell said the elective process “is an awful system. It has got to change.”
The four are ramping up an effort to get this legislative session to pass merit-selection legislation. The rules for any change to the constitution would make it necessary to approve the legislation this session and again approve the merit-selection legislation in both chambers the following session, before going to the voters on a referendum.
Though bills are in the hopper in both chambers, the push to approve the legislation this session could be tricky. Lawmakers have a calendar loaded with contentious budget negotiations, finding money for dedicated transportation, and the need for many of them to start campaigning early before November. It may be hard for them to put judicial merit selection on the front burner.
In states where merit selection is in vogue, voters are beginning to rebel. Under an initiative headed for the November ballot, Missourians will decide if they want to heave out merit selection and replace it with the system now enjoyed by Pennsylvanian: direct judicial elections by the voters.
In Missouri, vacancies are filled through a nonpartisan judicial nominating commission. That commission selects a slate of Judges from which the Governor chooses a nominee.
This merit-selection plan effectively takes politics out of the courtroom, but places it in the hands of lawyers and bar associations, with little political accountability.
In Tennessee, Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen rebuked the State judicial nominating commission for trying to force its favorites on him. He’s pushed his State legislature to approve steps bringing greater transparency to the nominating commission.
Maybe that is why George Soros, according to the Wall Street Journal, funds Justice At Stake, one of the major merit-selection lobbies. It’s easier to influence judicial selections when you only have a few Selection Commission members to lobby.
So Rendell and the other Governors can expect Soros to fund this campaign. Soros’ affiliated Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, according to the same Wall Street Journal editorial, hassled the ballot initiative’s signature gatherers, using bloggers to discourage voters from signing petitions. But the initiative has survived all court challenges.
As the Journal said, “We trust the voters more than we do a coterie of Soros-funded legal activists.”
We believe the four Governors should cease and desist trying to take away the right of voters to pick Judges. It is the birthright of voters.

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