Oct. 20, 2015

HARRISBURG – In order to change the way statewide appellate court judges are chosen by replacing partisan judicial elections with a merit selection system, House Judiciary Committee Majority Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) moved legislation to introduce a constitutional amendment that would do just that during the Judiciary Committee’s scheduled weekly voting meeting.

“The idea behind this legislation is that it will replace partisan judicial elections with a merit selection system,” said Marsico. “Instead of expensive elections, these judges would be appointed and allow for a less political climate in our courts.”

Merit selection is a hybrid elective-appointive system. This change would apply only to the three statewide appellate courts: Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts. Judges on the Court of Common Pleas, magisterial district courts, and Philadelphia Municipal Court would still be elected as they are now.

In a merit selection system, a bipartisan nominating commission of lawyers and non-lawyers selected by elected officials reviews applicants’ qualifications and recommends a short list to the governor for nomination. After Senate confirmation, the judge sits for a four-year term before standing for nonpartisan retention election for a full 10-year term, and then every 10 years thereafter.

The Appellate Court Nominating Commission would consist of 13 members:

• Five appointed by the governor from five different counties (no more than three from one party);
• Eight appointed by the General Assembly (two from each of four caucus leaders, half of them lawyers and half laypeople).

Commonwealth employees, elected or appointed officials, and political party officials would be prohibited from serving. Appointing authorities would consider that members should reflect the geographic, gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the Commonwealth. Implementing legislation with more details, as the General Assembly deems necessary or desirable, would be introduced in the future.

“The thought is that merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial and qualified judiciary, which, in turn, would boost the public’s confidence in our court system. Merit selection focuses on qualifications: legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament,” said Marsico. “Appellate court judges would no longer be chosen based on their campaign fundraising abilities and wouldn’t feel beholden to special interest groups who might appear before them in court.”

In addition to House Bill 1336, several other bills moved through the committee this week, including:

House Bill 12, which would allow a spouse who establishes that his or her spouse was convicted of a crime and that the filing spouse was a victim of that crime, to obtain a divorce in the same manner as if the convicted spouse consented to the divorce.
House Bill 380, which would reduce the length of time for a no-fault divorce based on separation. Currently, the waiting time is two years from the date of separation after which divorce litigants are permitted to start the process to divide their assets and determine whether alimony is owed. This legislation will propose reducing that mandatory waiting period to one year.
House Bill 44, which would require that the mandatory five year sentencing upon conviction of a violent crime with a firearm is to be imposed consecutively to any other sentence imposed by the court and prohibits concurrent sentences for such violent offenses.
House Bill 1601, which would re-enact certain mandatory minimum sentencing statutes in Pennsylvania.
House Bill 1632, which would restore Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing provisions relating to violent crimes committed with firearms in accordance with the U.S. and Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings.

The legislation will now go to the full House for consideration.

Representative Ronald Marsico
105th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Autumn R. Southard, 717.652.3721