This letter was emailed to every member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on January 12, 2022.
Dear Members of the Pennsylvania House:
We write to express our deep concern about the prospect of House Bill 38 being raised for consideration by this body. The Committee of Seventy has previously stated its strong opposition to this legislation, as it proposes a deeply flawed transformation of the Pennsylvania judiciary.
We have for decades advocated merit-selection appointment as a reform to mitigate the politicization of the courts and stem the growing influence of money in our elections. But this proposal to fracture the judiciary into 31 geographic election districts to be redrawn by the Legislature would only exacerbate the influence of politics and money on our court system. As we have stressed before, breaking the judicial branch into individual districts would:
Make appellate judges beholden to local politics. Compelling prospective judges to run in local, partisan elections would subject candidates to the pressures of wealthy individuals, political action committees and parochial interests. Judges charged with interpreting the law on behalf of all Pennsylvanians should not include in their calculus the political actors that finance them and elect them to public office.
Harm diversity and quality on the bench. Electing judges from districts would drastically shrink the pool of qualified candidates while heavily prioritizing geography over race, gender, ethnic and other diversity essential to a judiciary that reflects the state.
Allow judicial gerrymandering. Judicial districts would create a certain risk of boundaries drawn to manipulate the composition and integrity of the judiciary, with lawmakers given the power to gerrymander for partisan gain and to carve out judges who issue opinions those legislators find unfavorable.
To those who value our system of checks and balances, House Bill 38 contemplates a fundamentally different relationship between the legislative and judicial branches wherein the former has unequal power over the latter. Such a change would irreparably and severely impair the governance of the Commonwealth, and would harm the independence and impartiality of our court system.
We urge you to not advance this proposed constitutional amendment and allow House Bill 38 to lapse at the end of this session. I welcome any opportunity to discuss this matter further.
President and CEO
Committee of Seventy