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Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.

Each week The Sentinel will highlight one of the bills that has not received widespread attention.

About the bill

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania residents selected candidates for major party nominations to sit as judge for all three of the state’s appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court.

A bill introduced by Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, and Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, could make Tuesday’s primary election one of the last of its kind.

Pennsylvania is one of only seven states that hold partisan elections for state Supreme Court judge and one of only six that hold partisan elections for other appellate court judges, according to the American Bar Association.

House Bill 111 aims to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to have appellate court judges be appointed by the governor and confirmed by a two thirds vote in the Senate, rather than being elected.

Selection for appointment would be made from a list of candidates selected by an appellate court nominating commission made up of members appointed by the governor, as well as members of the majority and minority parties in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Cutler and Dean argue in their co-sponsorship letter that this would create a merit-based system for selecting judges and remove special interest and financial interest from the bench.

“Merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial, and qualified judiciary,” the two wrote in their co-sponsorship letter. “Merit selection focuses on qualifications: legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament. Appellate court judges would no longer be chosen based on their ballot position, campaign fundraising abilities, or where they live. Judicial candidates would no longer be required to engage in a process that leaves them seemingly beholden to wealthy lawyers and special interest groups who might appear before them in court. Removing money from our courtrooms helps to increase public confidence in the courts.”

The change would affect the state Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court, but would not affect judges for the county Court of Common Pleas or Magisterial District Judges.

Appellate court judges would serve for an initial term of four years, followed by a nonpartisan retention election for a 10-year term and a retention election every subsequent 10 years.

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