Pa. may reassess judicial selection process

    The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee is gearing up for a springtime push of bills to overhaul the way appellate court judges are picked.

    For years, those in and around the state Capitol have talked about getting rid of the partisan elections that put appellate judges in place.

    Would-be reformers argue the campaign contributions to candidates have ballooned in the past decade, giving citizens reason to think the judges of the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court are bought and sold.

    But changing the system would require amending the state’s constitution — a two-step process requiring a bill to pass in two consecutive sessions, and then clear a ballot referendum.

    So which is more difficult?

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, says he’s not sure.

    “I would say both are equally tough to do,” he said. “They would be big battles.”

    Marsico says it will take a legislative push, as well as a massive public awareness campaign.

    Groups on both sides of the issue of reforming how appellate judges are chosen in Pennsylvania say there’s no way to completely inoculate the process from political interests.

    Mark Phenicie, with the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, says there will be politics in any election or selection of judges.

    “We believe that the politics of the many, the voters, is actually less political than having a commission set up basically out of view of the public, which recommends to the governor various candidates,” he said.

    Supporters of the so-called “merit selection” proposals say the reforms would still allow for public involvement in both the commission that recommends judicial candidates to the governor and a ratification process that follows.

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