Pennsylvania: Hearing on merit selection plan set for today, membership of nominating commission unclear UPDATE: Vote delayed

Update: According to this tweet by the Communications Coordinator with the PA House Republican Caucus the vote on the proposal has been delayed.

Pennsylvania’s House Judiciary Committee is set to conduct a hearing today on a constitutional amendment to create a merit-selection system for the state’s three appellate courts (h/t to Gavel Grab for the pointer). A similar proposal was tabled by the same committee on a 13-12 vote in 2012 (coverage here).

HB 1848 would end the practice currently in place for the Supreme Court, Commonwealth Court, and Superior Court where judges are first elected on a partisan ballot and then in yes/no retention elections for subsequent terms. Instead, a 15-member Appellate Court Nominating Commission would prepare a list of candidates for appointment by the Governor subject to Senate confirmation (and confirmation would be automatic if the Senate declined to act after a certain number of days).

The 15 Appellate Court Nominating Commission members would be:

  • 7 “selected as provided by law”
  • 4 non-attorneys from different counties appointed by the Governor
  • 4 attorneys from different counties by the legislative leaders (President pro tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives)

There does not appear to be a list of the 7 “selected as provided by law.” For example when this came up as a constitutional amendment in 2012 (HB 1815) a companion bill (HB 1816) specified the 7 members are to be chosen from

  1. dean of law school by other deans
  2. bar associations
  3. business organizations
  4. civic organizations
  5. professional associations
  6. public safety organizations
  7. unions

Similar specifications have come up in the past as well. The first iterations (HB 2386 / SB 1325 of 2007) provided for 5 “public” members: business organizations, civil organizations, professional organizations, public safety organizations, and unions. Subsequent versions changed this up. HB 1619 / SB 861 of 2009 and SB 842 of 2011 provided for 6: the original 5 plus a dean of a law school in the state. HB 1816 of 2012 then added the original 5 plus the dean of a law school in the state plus a seat for the state’s bar associations.

The other change was in the attorney/non-attorney composition.

  • The 2007 versions explicitly designated at least 6 out of 13 members were to be lawyers (4 legislative leadership + 2 governor).
  • The 2009 and 2011 versions moved this to effectively 7 out of 14 members (4 legislative leadership + 2 governor + 1 law school dean).
  • The 2012 version dropped this down to 6 out of 15 (4 legislative leadership + 1 law school dean + 1 bar association) and explicitly banned lawyers from serving as any of the governor’s 4 picks (“The members may not be attorneys licensed to practice law in any state…”)