The next justice: Corbett should name a non-partisan to the court

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Now that Joan Orie Melvin has done the right thing and submitted her resignation from the state Supreme Court, Gov. Tom Corbett must not waste an opportunity to improve the state's highest court by selecting the right replacement.

The suspended justice was convicted last month on public corruption charges. A jury determined that she used her judicial staff, as well as the state legislative employees of her sister Jane Orie, to work on the judge's 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the court. Although she has vowed to appeal the conviction, Ms. Melvin submitted her resignation, effective May 1, on Monday, starting the timetable for appointing an interim justice.

Mr. Corbett has 90 days to select his nominee. The court is evenly divided politically, with three Republicans and three Democrats, so there may be a temptation to try to install a partisan ideologue in the seventh seat. That would be a mistake, and it is unlikely, too, because the Republican governor will need support from at least seven Democrats for his nominee to win the necessary two-thirds confirmation vote in the Senate.

The governor can expedite the process by avoiding candidates who have had significant roles in his administration, such his outgoing, and controversial, Department of Environmental Protection secretary, Michael Krancer, or Mr. Corbett's former chief of staff, Stephen Aichele. An additional safeguard would be to select a candidate who has no aspirations for a permanent spot on the court and who, therefore, promises not to run for a full, 10-year term.

No one expects Gov. Corbett to select a liberal Democrat who is out of sync with his views, but there are plenty of Republican legal minds whose views are mainstream enough to appeal to Democrats as well. That's what the Supreme Court needs, and that's the person Gov. Corbett should nominate.



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