Being an accredited member of the Fourth Estate gives us a bit more insight into judicial candidates than most. But we still can’t help but feel like we’re holding our breath a bit when we enter the voting booth.
And if we feel this way, we have to imagine that many Pennsylvanians feel equally bewildered. And this, of course, leads us to wonder (particularly after the pugilistic state Supreme Court campaign we’ve just witnessed) whether electing judges is such a good idea.
I’ve longed complained that voters really do not have enough information to make informed judgements about judges. I follow this stuff pretty closely, and even I am pulling the lever based on a few criteria I might be able to pick up here and there. I generally will avoid voting in elections where I am just horribly ignorant, like school board elections, which I leave for people with kids (as long as I’m not pissed off about something).
But I also do think that judges who work at a more local level should be accountable to the public they serve. If I got to unilaterally change the system, I’d probably keep district judges elected, but appellate judges should be appointed, with the advise and consent of the PA Senate, just like the feds do it. When it comes to the matter of administering the law, I have little problem with elected judges, but those who get to decide what the law is ought to be a bit more insulated from the political process.
The other big question is whether to allow the people to recall an appellate judge. The judge isn’t really running in an election, per se, so much as asking voters at some determined interval whether they think the judge should be retained. I would probably not have much objection to this, but it gives me pause to think that it might make appellate judges wary of making correct, but politically unpopular decisions. I would probably want to see that subject to a super majority requirement for recalling an appellate judge.