Bipartisan Pennsylvania Bill: Merit Selection of Appellate Judges

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

A bill to bring merit selection of appellate judges to Pennsylvania has been submitted in the State House of Representatives with a bipartisan sponsorship this week.

Pennsylvania State Representatives Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster County) and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) introduced the bill, which received immediate support from Pennsylvania’s current governor Tom Corbett (R) and previous two governors, Ed Rendell (D) and Tom Ridge (R), as well as the League of Women Voters and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

More after the jump.
The bill by Cutler and Sims would establish merit selection for appeal court judges only, while retaining the present method of judicial elections for all other courts and justices of the peace. Affected would be future judges of the Commonwealth Court, Superior Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A bipartisan merit selection panel of fifteen citizens, selected by the governor and legislature, would propose a list of judicial candidates for each vacancy. The candidate chosen by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate would serve as a judge for a short term, and then would face a retention election without opponents in order to hold his or her chair. Retention elections at ten-year intervals would continue to apply to all judges.

The bill proposes an amendment to the state Constitution, and so must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions, and then go before the people in a public referendum before taking effect.

Pennsylvania has been electing its judges only since the state Constitutional Convention of 1968. Those seeking election to our appellate courts typically visit county political committees across the state, seeking endorsement by one party or the other. In order to advertise and travel they have to raise substantial funds, and the usual sources are lawyers and law firms, that are likely to have business before the same courts.  

In the most recent election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, each side was reported to have spent over $2 million. The successful candidate, Joan Orie Melvin, was subsequently convicted of election law violations, and suspended from her position.  

“Judges are different from officials in the legislative and executive branches so it makes sense to select them differently,” the Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts executive director, Lynn Marks, said.

Judges must decide cases solely on the facts and the law, not based on political considerations, platforms or constituencies. It just doesn’t make sense to have a totally partisan process for a nonpartisan job. And the problem with money in judicial races is that most of the money comes from attorneys and special interests that often appear in state courts.

Hillary Clinton Receives National Constitution Center Liberty Medal

— article and photos by Bonnie Squires

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia held another one of its world-class events last week, as Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received the Liberty Medal before an audience of 1,300 people.

The medal honors men and women of courage and conviction, who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. Secretary Clinton was recognized for her advocacy of women’s rights and human rights around the globe.

More after the jump.


(Left to right) Bill Sasso, Esq., Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Jeffrey Rosen, CEO of the National Constitution Center, each praised Hillary for her life-long activities for the common good.

ABC News Anchor and Correspondent Elizabeth Vargas served as the mistress of ceremonies, and presenters included:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees;
  • Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania and National Constitution Center Trustee;
  • Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter;
  • No Labels Co-Founder Mark McKinnon;
  • Journalist and Human Rights Advocate Roxana Saberi; and
  • National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, who presented the medal to Secretary Clinton.

Appearing in video tributes during the ceremony were:

  • Former British Prime Minister and previous Liberty Medal recipient Tony Blair;
  • Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan;
  • tennis legend Billie Jean King;
  • actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen;
  • News Political Commentator Cokie Roberts, and
  • other friends, sponsors and dignitaries.

Governor Bush and Secretary Clinton were both gracious in their remarks about each other, even though it is possible that in 2016 each of them will represent their respective political parties in the presidential election.


Dr. Amy Gutmann, Penn president, who chaired the Liberty Medal selection committee, gave a rousing speech about Hillary Cllinton’s accomplishments in gaining equality for women and minorities around the world. Gutmann also got excited when she predicted that Clinton would become the first woman president of the U.S.


(Left to right) Marciarose Shestack, Bob Rovner, Esq., Commissioner Josh Shapiro and his wife Lori Shapiro, and Bill Sasso, Esq., host of the reception.


(Left to right) Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, Tom Knox and Anne Ewers, CEO of the Kimmel Center, joined hundreds of guests at the President’s Reception.


(Left to right) Sandy and Steve Sheller, Esq., were delighted to talk with former Governr Ed Rendell.


(Left to right Patrons Barbara and Len Sylk are joined by Diane Semingson.


Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler speaks to her friend Dr. Afaf Meleis, dean of the Penn School of of Nursing.