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Amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to Enable Judicial Recalls March 22, 2008

Posted by papundit in Uncategorized.
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Republican Pennsylvania State Representatives Rubley and Steil are getting behind a movement to amend the constitution to provide for “Merit Selection” of judges instead of direct election.  They raise some valid concerns with the present system: Overt electioneering does not do much to maintain the illusion of an impartial judiciary.  However, “Merit Selection” is fraught with even greater perils — described in some detail by Collin Levy in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed this week.  Between the two alternatives our existing system is preferable since it maintains transparency and accountability, instead of shifting the selection of judges to back rooms dominated by trial lawyers and liberal judicial activists.

While we’re talking about amending the Pennsylvania Constitution, there is an important change to be made, and that is to enable the recall of state officials before their terms expire.  Under the present constitution state officials and judges — many of whom are elected to terms of as long as ten years — can only be removed by impeachment, and only for “misbehavior in office.”  When the Pennsylvania citizens feel that an elected official has betrayed their trust they have no recourse against that official until the next election.

More specifically: The PA Constitution provides for the removal of civil officers only by impeachment for “misbehavior in office” (Article VI Section 6).  Per Article V Section 18, judges can also be disciplined or removed by a Judicial Conduct Board or Court of Judicial Discipline, but both of these are institutions of the Judicial Branch (and they can only remove judges for violating rules that they establish).

OTHER STATES AND BACKGROUND

Eighteen other states have constitutional recall provisions. Although rarely used, the mere existence of recall authority helps to keep the government reasonably accountable and responsive to the citizens.

  • NCSL has an excellent background on constitutional provisions for recall in eighteen states. These provisions are rarely invoked at the state level, and have only extremely rarely resulted in the actual recall of an official. Of course, the mere possibility of a recall is an incentive for officials to be responsive to the voters.
  • AJS explains how impeachment of judges has been implemented and used in the states.
  • Here are some useful legal theories in support of recall provisions.
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