Didn't know there was a race this year? Can't name the candidates? Well, you're not alone.
Many people, even those tuned in to politics, don't know Republican Joan Orie Melvin will face Democrat Jack Panella in November. If folks don't even know their names, it's a good bet they don't know their qualifications, judicial philosophies or political positions either.
Not that appellate court candidates are willing to say much about their political positions.
So why do we hold elections for these positions? Why aren't appellate court judges appointed like the U.S. Supreme Court justices?
Good question. For years, reformers have been suggesting we move to "merit selection" of judges. They make persuasive arguments:
--- Most people don't know enough about the races to make intelligent choices -- instead relying on party affiliation or ballot position.
--- These statewide races are expensive -- they can cost millions. Where do you think all that money comes from? In many cases, lawyers.
Lawyers who often wind up trying cases before the very judges they helped elect.
Hmmm . . .
Now, judges and judicial candidates will protest that they have high integrity. And most of them do.
But some of them don't. Now impeached Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen reportedly kept a list of friends who'd made political contributions to his election campaign -- which he used to help form his judicial decisions, according to an investigating grand jury.
So these campaign contributions do pose a potential threat to the integrity of justice.
Still, the powers that be have been reluctant to switch to merit selection employed by the feds and many other states -- perhaps worrying they'll be perceived as anti-democratic by taking away citizens' right to vote for judges.
But the U.S. Supreme Court recently provided the perfect "excuse": The high court ruled in a West Virginia case that judges must recuse themselves from cases involving high-dollar donors who helped them win their seats.
If Pennsylvania used a merit selection process -- as proposed in recently introduced legislation -- we wouldn't have to worry about running afoul of that ruling and judges wouldn't have to try to figure out whether a $50 donation requires recusal.
Obviously, appointed judges can be corrupt, too, so merit selection is no panacea. But it's a step in the right direction.
And it solves the problem of ill-informed citizens blindly playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in the voting booth.
That, as Dickens might put it, makes the law "a ass."