Sweep The Judges?

The Bulletin offers an insightful discussion of the PA Clean Sweep’s push for rejecting all judges up for retention.

While we don’t offer advice on how to vote, I will make a few comments.

1) Eric Epstein’s comment, “In my view you should vote ‘no’ until the judge convinces you otherwise.” seems to be the view of many. As compared to past years when judges were retained by default, unless scandal or other issues came into play, voters are looking to oust judges – as they view the entire system as corrupt – unless a judge demonstrates otherwise.

2) That being said, there are good arguments and bad arguments for retaining judges.

Bad argument: “Keep all the judges.” Such as MontCo GOP Chair Ken Davis saying,

“It is a dangerous precedent to throw out incumbent judges. Republicans and Democrats alike [support] statewide retention of all judges.”

Anytime something is called “bi-partisan” watch out. Basically, this implies Republican and Democrats are working together to get re-elected. Elected officials’ focus on getting re-elected and maintaining power is what reformers are tired of. Which is why PA Clean Sweep wants to oust all judges to change the system.

Worse Argument: “Not retaining judges will lead to chaos or worse.”. Take for instance the over-the-top statements by Terry Madonna and Michael Young that replacing 66 judges is

“likely to unleash a plague of unanticipated horrors into state politics that could set back reform for decades”

Madonna and Young’s argument is based on Gubernatorial appointment (and Senatorial approval) of judges to fill open seats. Yet these appointees serve only two years, before voters get to select a replacement in an open race, rather than a retention election. Madonna and Young’s argument would seem to imply that the US Supreme Court – appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate – must be the most corrupt agency in American, and a “plague of horrors”. Finally, their argument that replacing a mere 6% of judges would ruin the judicial system must be carried out to the logical conclusion: Voters must never reject a sitting judge, for any reason – i.e. judges should not be held accountable to the people.

Worst argument: “Get over it”. Tom Ridge’s statements to the effect “Get over the Pay raise. Vote Republican!” was simply evidence of the political establishment not getting it. The people are angry because they feel the pay raise was simply one example of a corrupt state government, that no serious reform has occurred in the two years since the pay raise, and that the courts have completely ignored the Constitution. “Get over it” just doesn’t cut it.

Good argument: “Judge X has defended the Constitution.” For example, the attempt to defend of Justice Saylor from his campaign in the Bulletin article:

“Tom Saylor ruled against the pay raise,” Sean Connolly, spokesman for the Saylor Retention campaign, argued. “He’s the only one who said the court made a mistake 20 years ago when it allowed unvouchered expenses. He said it was unconstitutional then and it is unconstitutional now. It should be revoked for all state officials. “To target him doesn’t make much sense. He ruled against the pay raise. He ruled against the lobbying act. He ruled in favor of the Right to Know Act. It is not only wrong but illogical to target Justice Saylor. He’s a good government justice.”

3) That being said, there is a dearth of information about judges’ records, as Tim Potts points out:

Voters are asked to vote with virtually no information. The people who know the most about what needs fixing in the courts are not allowed to talk about those issues.

Some sources for voters include:

Democracy Rising Judicial Survey
Pennsylvania Family Institute Voters’ Guide
PA League of Women’s Voters Voters’ Guide
Philadelphia Inquirer Survey

If readers know of other sources, please pass them along and we will post them here.