The corrosive influence of increased spending and politicking surrounding judicial elections has manifested itself around the country, most recently in the conviction of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice for corruption linked to her own judicial campaign. But moves to change the process for selecting judges face an uphill battle. This month, four former Pennsylvania governors – two from each party – are capitalizing on the recent conviction of Joan Orie Melvin to highlight the problem of political influence on judges and vie for a constitutional amendment to change the process.
A bill endorsed by the governors would have candidates for appellate courts in the state approved by a commission and then nominated by the governor, insulating them from the fundraising demands of a judicial election that may sway judges’ decision-making.
“When it comes to statewide judges, very few voters know who they are, and if they do know who they are, it’s for the wrong reasons,” said former Republican governor Dick Thornburgh, now working for the law firm K&L Gates. The former governors warned in a call Monday that judicial elections give the dangerous impression that judicial elections are for sale and cast a “very dark shadow” over the integrity of what should be neutral arbiters. To pass such an amendment, the Legislature would have to vote on the issue in two consecutive sessions, and then hold a referendum.