A new poll indicates that 93% of Pennsylvanians believe they should have a vote on whether state appellate judges should be elected or appointed.
Democratic Governor Ed Rendell and 3 of his Republican predecessors, Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker are speaking out in favor of legislation currently in the General Assembly that would allow voters to decide whether Commonwealth and Superior Court Judges and State Supreme Court justices should be elected or appointed. Rendell calls the elected system "awful" and says voters should be able to decide on how these judges get on the appellate court benches.
The organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which supports a switch to merit selection, commissioned the poll in which 62% of the respondents said they favor appointment of appellate judges. Lynn Marks, executive director of the organization, says that most people say they don't have enough relevant information about appellate court candidates..."and even worse three fourths don't believe the most qualified candidates win, and three out of four believe that campaign contributions have at least some influence on judicial decision making."
Marks says that 60% of the cases currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court involve a lawyer, a law firm or an individual who has contributed to at least one of the justices' campaigns.
The survey also revealed that 57% of those questioned didn't know that the appellate judges are elected.
Any change to the system would require passage of an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.