Opinion

‘Twas the night before Christmas — and Harrisburg was trying to politicize the judiciary | Opinion

A poem about judicial independence.

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Debbie Gross Headshot

Deborah R. Gross is the CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a nonpartisan nonprofit. She is an attorney, an adjunct at Villanova School of Law, an advisory board member of the Kline School of Law of Drexel University, former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and former President of the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.


A Visit from St. Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Pa. House,
Ways to threaten the judiciary were being espoused.

Bills were brought to the Judiciary Committee with intentional deceit,
In hopes that the public would be asleep.

Term limits on the Supreme Court justices were at first declared,
Alas, amendments were proposed, so no appellate judges would be spared.

No rationales, explanations, testimony, or constituent input was considered,
But yet, they’re our legislators who serve the public, go figure.

Legislators also proposed that retention elections be struck,
Instead, requiring full-scale re-election campaigns, more money and good luck.

Again, no rationales, explanations, testimony, or constituent input was considered,
But yet, they’re our legislators who serve the public, go figure.

The bills sailed through the committee with less than 10 minutes of discussions,
Omitting testimony of lawyers and the public without repercussions.

Judicial election campaigns cost lots of money,
Including dark money donations that are not even funny.

While fundraising for three vacancies on the 2015 Pa. Supreme Court hit $25 million,
A total of six million dollars was spent for this year’s one Supreme Court seat; what’s next, a billion?

A negative ad campaign attacking a judge’s decision based on the law,
Violated judicial ethical canons and had to be withdrawn.

Conflicts arise from all the judicial campaigning,
Electing judges is a system that ought to be waning.

Judges owe loyalty to laws, statutes and precedent,
Our democracy needs our judges to be independent.

Appointments and selection based on merit would be far better,
It is clearly time for Pa. voters to write that letter.

The discontent of legislators with judicial decisions,
Should never result in these brash, quick and ill-advised missions.

Legislators’ disapproval of the decisions of judges,
Should not result in passage of bills based on grudges.

Constitutional Amendments require discussions, hearings and transparency,
Not secretive, expedited and closed-door methods ignoring constituency.

Happy holidays to all — and concerned citizens, join in the fight!


Afterword

Two bills in the Pa. House that would dramatically change the way judges are elected in Pennsylvania are being moved forward without any public discussion.

Known as HB 1880 and HB 2141, they both propose constitutional amendments. One would eliminate judicial retention elections and instead require re-elections. The other would place term limits of two on appellate court judges. These bills were presented to the House Judiciary Committee with less than a week’s notice and were passed out of committee last week without any testimony or public hearings.

The clear intent of these bills is to politicize the judiciary and attack the courts’ independence.

Further reading

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