FUMO, WILLIAMS TO REINTRODUCE
PHILADELPHIA JUDICIAL REFORM PLAN
HARRISBURG, September 6, 2007 – State Senators Vince Fumo and Anthony H.
Williams (both D-Philadelphia) plan to reintroduce next week a
constitutional amendment under which judges on the Philadelphia Common Pleas
Court and Municipal Court would be appointed through a selection process.
They first submitted the resolution in June of 2005, during the previous
Their plan is aimed at altering the current system of electing judges in the
state’s largest city. Instead, the Governor would choose from a list of
highly qualified candidates supplied by a Judicial Nominating Commission.
Appointees would be subject to confirmation by a two-thirds majority of the
“When we first introduced this proposal two years ago, it received
widespread support from many people in the legal community who believe the
process for picking judges in Philadelphia is broken, but unfortunately
it never gained much attention in the state legislature,” Fumo said. “We are
now going to try again, and we hope to build on the support we received last
Toward that goal, Fumo and Williams said they would ask the Senate Judiciary
Committee to schedule a hearing on the proposal in the city of Philadelphia.
“As I've said time and time again, a perfect system of electing judges would
be best, but unfortunately when voter participation falls to or below 20
percent, the system becomes far less than perfect," Williams said. "We
sacrifice the diversity of the city in which we live as well as the minimal
criteria for competency. It is far past the time to correct this problem of
one of the major governmental branches that affect our communities day by
Adoption of the plan requires a state constitutional amendment. For that to
occur, the Fumo/Williams resolution would have to be approved by two
successive state Legislatures – the one now seated and the one that will
take office in January of 2009, after the 2008 general election. It would
then have to pass in a statewide referendum. Additionally, this resolution
requires that the referendum must be approved by a majority of Philadelphia
voters, so that the rest of the state would not be imposing a change
rejected by citizens of the city.
The proposed amendment as first introduced was developed in 2005 after
lengthy discussions with the Philadelphia Bar Association and the statewide
nonpartisan court reform organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.
The proposal would alter articles IV and V of the state constitution. It
would establish a Judicial Nominating Commission of 19 members, all
Philadelphia residents. The commission must include “men and women from
civic, labor and business communities and should reflect the geographic,
political, economic, ethnic and racial diversity of the City of
Philadelphia.” The commission would be appointed as follows:
• 4 members by the Governor
• 3 members by the Philadelphia Bar Association
• 3 members by the Chairman of the Philadelphia County Democratic Party
• 3 members by the Chairman of the Philadelphia County Republican Party
• 2 members by the President Pro Tempore of the state Senate
• 2 members by the Minority Leader of the state Senate
• 1 member by the District Attorney of Philadelphia
• 1 member by the Chief Public Defender of Philadelphia
When a court vacancy occurs, the Commission would offer a list of at least
three but not more than five candidates to the Governor. He would be
required to fill the vacancy with one nominee from the list. That nominee
would be confirmed only by receiving the vote of two-thirds of the members
of the state Senate.
Anyone failing to receive the two-thirds confirmation vote could not be
re-nominated by the Governor to the same court for one year.
Members of the Judicial Nominating Commission would serve staggered
four-year terms and could not serve more than two consecutive terms. They
could not hold any other public office, public appointment, or office in any
political party or organization. The Governor would appoint the chairman.
No more than two of the Governor’s appointees could come from the same
political party. At least one each of the appointees of the President Pro
Tempore and the Minority Leader would have to be non-lawyers.
No potential nominee could appear on the list submitted to the Governor
unless he or she is a member in good standing of the bar of the Supreme
Court, and has demonstrated professional competence, judgment and
integrity. Applicants for vacancies on Common Pleas Court must have actively
engaged in the practice of law or the teaching of law for 10 years, and on
Municipal Court, for five years.
Judges chosen through this system would have to stand for a retention
election initially four years after their appointment, then every 10 years.
When first introducing the proposal two years ago, Fumo and Williams pointed
out that in Philadelphia, the election of judges had become too heavily
dependent on things such as ballot position, campaign contributions and
street money. Fumo said at the time: “Judges should serve on the basis of
their legal experience, competency, and professional temperament.”
Williams said in 2005: “It is paramount that those seeking to wear the robes
not only be sensitive to issues of gender and class, but also to have the
temperament and competency to run a courtroom with respect, dignity, and
fairness. Many of the people elected seem to do this; unfortunately, there
are also those elected who do not, and they taint the system for us all.
Judicial reform speaks to change. Philadelphia County needs change. This is
a start of a conversation about how best to do that. And make no mistake,
the people, not the politicians, will have the final say on approving this
Both senators stressed again as they did two years ago that the amendment is
not designed to take politics completely out of the process. Officials
elected by the voters will have integral roles in the selection and
confirmation of judges. Rather, the purpose of the change is to ensure that
the most qualified candidates are nominated, that campaign money is removed
from the selection process, and that a diverse consensus forms around
nominees to the bench.
Fumo and Williams both took note of the long-standing difficulty of enacting
a similar judicial selection process statewide, and expressed hope that, if
successful, the experience in Philadelphia might serve as a model for the
rest of the state.
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Click here to see a chart showing the proposed judicial selection process
Click here to see a chart showing judicial selection proposal details