Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Major newspaper urges 'NO' vote on state Supreme Court justices

The editorial below is from Sunday’s edition of The Allentown Morning Call. As far as I know, there has never been a case before where a major Pennsylvania newspaper has called for the rejection of state Supreme Court justices. The more liberal Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pennsylvania Bar Association are urging voters to overlook judicial inaction over the legislative pay grab and give Nigro and Newman a free pass. But if Pennsylvania voters are going to restore Constitutional order in Harrisburg and drive out the money-grubbing politicians, voting "NO" to retain these two judges on the Nov. 8 ballot is the only way to start. Pass this along to registered voters you know. Here’s the full editorial:

Voters are at a historic moment, should reject Supreme Court justices

This year, Pennsylvanians will vote on whether to retain two members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman.

Members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are elected to 10-year terms and stand for retention at the end of each term. In theory, this gives voters a chance to evaluate job performance and make changes if the performance is poor. In practice, retention elections have been formalities. No state Supreme Court justice has ever been rejected by the voters in a retention election.

This isn't because there has been a detailed evaluation by voters. It's because statewide judicial elections are among the lowest profile races in politics. In Pennsylvania, party registration and geography are as important in winning seats on the statewide courts as are qualifications. Candidates from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas often benefit from hometown loyalties and high numbers of hometown voters. In off-year municipal election, when voter turnout is generally low, this translates into almost automatic victory in retention races.

Geography is a poor reason to elect or retain the judges who are supposed to uphold the rule of law for all Pennsylvanians. The key criterion should be how the justices uphold that rule of law — and that means, most importantly, the state constitution — and how the court performs as an effective check on the powers of the Legislature and executive branch. Thus, the best interests of all citizens of Pennsylvania — not just special interests or politicians — are served.

Retention elections aren't bound by the rules of fairness that govern a courtroom. They should be bound by the rules of the boardroom, with voters serving as the directors. When a company is performing poorly, directors make changes. So do the voters in this election, because the Supreme Court has abdicated its role as a check on the General Assembly. The justices' explanation, that they are respecting the principle of separation of powers, is a poor one.

While voters are justifiably angry about the General Assembly's July pay grab and the role Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy played in that, there are deeper reasons to rebalance state government. One is the unanimous vote by the Court last year to uphold the bulk of Act 71, legalizing slot machines. In doing so, the Court made a mockery of the constitution, upholding the Legislature's abuse of constitutionally defined legislative processes.

Justice Newman recused herself from that decision. In fairness to both Justices Newman and Nigro, they earlier voted to reverse Commonwealth Court on the Lobbyist Disclosure Act, which kept Pennsylvanians in the dark about how special interest influence the passage of laws. Unfortunately, those votes were for naught, because the Supreme Court voted 3-3, meaning the lower court verdict stood. And yes, the Pennsylvania Bar Association has recommended their retentions.

However, if Pennsylvanians are to begin exercising control over state government, insisting that the state constitution be consistently upheld, a message must be sent. If the historic discontent with what has happened in Harrisburg these last two years is to result in positive change, it has to start with a historic rejection in this retention election. Perhaps, then, the rest of the Court will hold the General Assembly accountable, and Gov. Rendell and legislative leaders will get the message to stop playing fast and loose with constitutional processes meant to ensure that public policy is enacted openly and with adequate consideration. We thank Justices Nigro and Newman for their service. Nothing personal, it's time for change.

The Morning Call recommends "no" votes on the retention of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman.

Copyright 2005 The Morning Call

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