Many Pennsylvania voters who step into the polls face a long list of unfamiliar names: judicial candidates. Pennsylvania is one of only half a dozen states that call on voters to elect all the state’s judges in partisan elections.
Shira Goodman, with the group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said like candidates for other offices, judicial candidates have to raise money to gain support and advertise. “The money comes from people who care the most about courts and elections: lawyers, law firms, often big corporations or unions,…special interest groups,” said Goodman.Goodman said polls show the public believes campaign contributions influence judicial decision-making, and that’s a problem. “Really perception is reality when it comes to the courts, because of what the courts stand on,” she said. “The courts don’t tax people, the courts don’t raise armies, they stand on their reputations as being fair and impartial and when the people lose confidence in that, it really weakens the whole system.”Goodman’s group would substitute a merit selection system, in which a bi-partisan group would send the Governor a list of qualified candidates. The Governor would make nominations from that list.
Enacting these changes would require amending Pennsylvania’s constitution — a proposal that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.