Saturday, June 25, 2005

Modern Courts Coming to Philadelphia?

This Monday, two state senators plan to introduce a measure that could make groundbreaking changes to the way judges in Philadelphia come to the bench (see story). "Our method of picking judges has become too heavily dependent on things such as ballot position, campaign contributions and street money," Sen. Vince Fumo said. "Judges should serve on the basis of their legal experience, competency and professional temperament." Consequently, Fumo and Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Phila.) have announced that they are advancing legislation that would amend the state constitution by requiring the Governor to appoint judges who are recommended by a judicial nominating commission. Who else is supporting this measure? Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts; Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy; Andrew A. Chirls, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and Michael Coard, head of a new watchdog organization named Judging the Judges. The legislation - affecting judicial placements for the Philadelphia Common Pleas and Municipal Courts - would create a 19-member judicial nominating commission populated solely by Philadelphia residents. There are a number of procedural hurdles before modern, progressive courts can come to Philadelphia. The proposal must win approval in two consecutive legislative sessions, then voters across the Commonwealth would have to approve the change (affecting only Philadelphia). Finally, Philadelphia voters also would have to support the change in a citywide referendum. A well organized and participatory selection process is the way that most states select their judges, and it's heartening to see Philadelphia move towards a more progressive judiciary selection process. For more information, go to the Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts website.


Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

My deep respect for the excellence and constructiveness of this blog does not change my view that it is Orwellian doubletalk to describe taking the right to vote for judges away from the people as "progressive," or to call such a selection process "participatory."

Anyone who loves the Rehnquist Court and who savors the prospect of Chief Justice Scalia or Chief Justice Thomas might want to support this change.

Anyone who is interested in preserving fundamental rights in Philadelphia Courts should actively oppose it.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the 19 people that voted in the May primary will be devestated.

JAF said...

The proposal for merit selection in PA would be nothing like the federal process and would, in fact, be inclusive and participatory.

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

In the proposed selection process in Pennsylvania, it is the governor, whomever he is, who gets to make the appointment. All the other stuff about membership on the commission is just window dressing, as the Commission does not pick the ultimate nominees, and the Governor merely has to get the person or persons he wants on a large list.

After the governor makes the appointment, he needs confirmation from a legislative body that is controlled by the Republican Party.

The main difference between the state and federal plan is that the
Republican Party is much stronger in the state senate than it is in the U.S. Senate.

The state plan shifts authority from a Democratic electorate to a Republican Senate, and either a Democrat who can raise big money (Rendell raised a record $43 million, largely from Republicans) or a Republican. The net result is a serious loss of power for Philadelphia voters.

Banning elections on the ground that not enough people vote in them is kind of like banning blogs on the ground that not enough people read them. It is the right to vote that keeps extremists like Scalia and Thomas off our courts and prevents any clique like the Federalist Society from dominating them.

JAF said...

Mark - the devil is in the details, but the selection commission can be broad and bi-partisan and approval of the governor's appointments can be subject to a super-majority of the legislature, ensuring that whacky, partisan judges don't get railroaded through. But Mark, in Philadelphia, judicial elections are a joke - always have been, always will be. We need a better system, and we should opt for one that's worked swimmingly in a majority of states. I saw how it worked in New Jersey, where I grew up and became familiar with politics. They have one of the most respected and professional state judiciaries in America.

Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

One does not have to look very far to see how right-wingers can easily get into to the New Jersey judiciary. Andrew P. Napolitano, a regular commentator on Fox News and the O'Reilly Factor, a strong believer in the Scalia/Thomas "natural law" camp, served on the New Jersey Superior Court from 1987 through his resignation in 1995. He had life tenure at the time of his resignation.

Anonymous said...

"Our method of picking judges has become too heavily dependent on things such as ballot position, campaign contributions and street money," Sen. Vince Fumo said. "Judges should serve on the basis of their legal experience, competency and professional temperament."

Rule of Thumb: when Vince Fumo signs on to any idea, run the other way as fast as you can.

JAF said...

Another good rule to follow...don't worry so much about Vince Fumo.

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