Watching Penn., N.J. Races for Effect on State Supreme Courts

By November 3, 2009Briefly Legal

Two Superior Court judges are challenging one another for the sole vacancy on the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a race that will go a long way toward determining the philosophical majority on the court. The election between Democrat Jack Panella and Republican Joan Orie Melvin heads Tuesday’s statewide election ballot. From Associated Press:

Panella, 54, has raised the most campaign cash by far — more than $2.5 million — mostly from lawyers and various organized labor groups. Trial-lawyer groups in Philadelphia and Williamsport alone have given $1.3 million, according to campaign finance reports on file Monday.

Melvin, 53, has charged that Panella’s reliance on special-interest money may compromise his objectivity on the bench.

We have a lengthy post with many links on the election at Point of, the Manhattan Institute’s legal blog. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial endorsement of Melvin is compelling given the newspaper’s liberal leanings:

Of the two appellate judges vying for Supreme Court, JOAN ORIE MELVIN of Pittsburgh edges out Jack A. Panella, her Easton colleague on the state Superior Court. Melvin, 53, earned the state bar’s highest rating and was cited for being “genial and fair- minded” with a “solid record of performance” on the bench over a 24-year period.

Even though Melvin has a political pedigree, she brings an outsider’s viewpoint characterized by her refusal to take the 2005 judicial pay raise. She’s also bucking the status quo with her call for an independently appointed agency to police rogue judges. Melvin’s capable and equally highly rated opponent has fewer years on the bench and a sizable, special-interest campaign war chest.

And across the river in the Garden State, The Star-Ledger reports, Next governor will reshape N.J. Supreme Court”: “[The] next governor could remake the seven-member court by appointing as many as four justices — and loading a majority of the bench to suit his political philosophy as New Jersey struggles with complicated issues such as taxes, gay marriage and school funding.”

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