Former Pa. governors back judicial merit selection

    For years, a dogged group of advocates in Pennsylvania has called for appointing appellate court judges in a multi-step process called merit selection in a move that would replace partisan elections.

    Supporters say relying on judicial elections all but ensures that judges aren’t independent arbiters of reason, but merely adept fundraisers.

    Now repeating the chorus are three former governors: Republicans Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge, and Democrat Ed Rendell. A fourth former governor, Democrat George Leader, also signed a letter to legislators supporting merit selection.

    Rendell says casting a vote for judges is arbitrary for most people, who might make their picks based on a candidate’s position on the ballot.

    “Voters have no idea who they’re voting for anyway,” he said Monday. “No idea. They have no clue.”

    Ridge says the average voter in Pennsylvania knows judicial candidates’ party and the county where they live.

    “And that’s it,” he said. “And there’s no conceivable way that any well-intentioned citizen can make an appropriate decision based on that information alone.”

    But opponents of merit selection say the process would not be free of corrupting influences and would have the added downside of being less democratic.

    Merit selection would involve a citizens’ commission, the governor, and the state Senate.

    It would then subject the chosen judges to regular, nonpartisan retention elections.

    Implementation would require a constitutional amendment.

    And the current Senate proposal would have to be passed in two consecutive legislation sessions and then clear a voter referendum.

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