The way we select our judges matters. There are many different ways to select judges. Merit selection is the system best designed to ensure that the most qualified candidates reach the bench and that we have fair and impartial judges.
The process of choosing state court judges differs widely from state to state. How we choose judges is important: the type of judicial selection system affects the experience level of the judiciary; the ability of qualified, but less politically connected individuals to serve on the bench; the gender and racial diversity of the bench; and the public's perception of the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Merit Selection is the judicial selection system that best ensures that qualified individuals will reach the bench without the problematic influence of money on the selection process. Merit selection uses an independent bipartisan citizens nominating commission composed of men and women from across the Commonwealth, non-lawyers and lawyers, from diverse occupational, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Anyone meeting the required criteria may apply to the commission to be considered for a judicial vacancy.
Pennsylvania elects all its judges in partisan political elections. Although PMC does not think this system is designed to get the most highly qualified judges, we believe that so long as Pennsylvania continues to elect its judges, it is our responsibility to inform the public about the elections and electoral process. Voters often are frustrated at how difficult it is to find relevant information and, indeed, to even know what to consider when voting in judicial elections. PMC aims to diminish that frustration.
There are ongoing efforts to change the way we select judges in Pennsylvania. Currently, there is a new legislative effort to implement a merit selection for the three statewide appellate courts. In addition, status changes in the judiciary frequently make the news as do the filling of interim vacancies (vacancies between elections) on the courts.