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Lowman Henry
Lowman Henry

Lincoln Blog

by Lowman S. Henry

Merit Selection = Corruption

March 25, 2013

In the world of Pennsylvania politics and policy seemingly unrelated developments are in fact tied together - or at least shed light of understanding on the other.

A case in point are four past governors of Pennsylvania - two Democrats and two Republicans - arguing that Keystone State voters should be denied the right to vote for appellate court judges. Instead, they insist, the commonwealth's judicial branch should be determined by merit selection.

In other words, governors should get to appoint. Such appointment would be made after the "merits" of candidates are vetted - by a panel of lawyers and other special interests holding no accountability to We the People.

Meanwhile, the pay-to-play scandal at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is growing faster than a weed in spring. The recent resignation of a turnpike commission, along with the indictments of current and former top staffers, has brought to light the seamy underbelly of politics and favoritism than has decimated the once-proud agency.

How are the two related?

Well, turnpike commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. A process similar to the so-called "merit selection" advocated by the state's former chief executives. Basically, if you like what the turnpike commission is and the management it has wrought, then you will love merit selection.

Which is to say merit selection is a prescription for massive corruption.

Proponents of talking away judicial election rights from voters say the current system is corrupt. They point to the recent conviction of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. No system is immune from bad actors, and the integrity of any process is only as good as the people involved in it. That having been said, placing the selection of judges in the hands of special interests and legal elites will do little more that move the corruption outside the glare of public scrutiny.

While I have great respect for at least two of the former governors, their support for merit selection is more reflective of their professional backgrounds (three are lawyers), and a desire to enhance the power of the office they once held than it is improving the system.

Turning the state's appellate courts into a judicial version of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission may benefit certain special interests, but it will not benefit the public interest.

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