Plan of merit: Four governors call for appointed appellate judges

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Former governors of opposing parties don't often agree, but a key convergence occurred last week when four of them called on Pennsylvania lawmakers to give voters a chance to replace the election of appellate judges with a system of merit appointment.

Democrats Ed Rendell and George Leader and Republicans Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh told the Legislature in a March 12 letter to let voters amend the state constitution to achieve reform. "Electing appellate court judges in divisive, expensive, partisan elections is not working for the people of Pennsylvania," they wrote.

The latest poster child for change is suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted last month on six counts of public corruption. The charges stemmed from the justice's use of state-paid staff to help run her political campaigns.

Senate Bill 298 proposes constitutional amendments that would continue to allow Common Pleas Court judges to be elected. Appellate judges would be nominated by the governor from a list submitted by an independent nominating commission. The nominee would have to seek Senate confirmation and later submit to a retention election.

It will take two legislative sessions to put the amendments before the voters. The governors are right that lawmakers must move now.

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