HARRISBURG - The House Judiciary Committee has approved a proposal that would pave the way for voters to decide if the state constitution should be altered to do away with the direct election of statewide judges.
House Bill 111, which passed 16-10, also mandates that most judge candidates be nominated by the governor after they have been vetted and deemed qualified by a special commission.
Those ultimately selected by the governor would also require a two-thirds majority of the state Senate and face a retention election after a four-year term.
With the measure also calling for a constitutional amendment, it would need to pass in two separate legislative sessions before even being placed before voters. Only statewide judges would be impacted by the change, which does not include county court judges.
With candidates vying for appeals courts this year having already spent nearly $1 million among them ahead of this year’s primary, and candidates having spent in excess of $2 million two years ago, supporters of the measure are touting it as a way of taking money out of the political equation.
“This makes everything about qualifications, not ability to raise money or be a good candidate,” Maida Milone, president and CEO of local advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, told the Pennsylvania Record.
“There is no room for money in the selection of judges. We’ve been pushing the idea for 30 years and are hoping the climate makes this the time to get over the hump.”
Since 2014, two state Supreme Court judges have abruptly resigned after being ensnared in a scandal over the exchange of raunchy and offensive e-mails. The transmissions were made public by then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was ultimately indicted on perjury and other charges.
“We think people are very sensitive to all this,” Milone added. “We think those circumstances increase the chances for passage.”
Pennsylvania is one of just six states that still directly elects all of their judges, and Milone sees ample benefits from a more modern approach.
“We think the makeup of the commission being proposed is one that allows for people of diverse backgrounds being considered,” she said. “We are in complete and absolute support.”