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Would-be Pennsy judges should skip political talk

May 27, 2003|By BOB MAGINNIS

In what seems more like a joke than an attempt to be helpful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last fall issued two rulings that give candidates for the high court to right to speak out on issues, while restricting what they can say.

Confused? We'd bet the candidates are, too. The would-be judges would do well to keep their political statements to a minimum.

The first ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Minnesota law which prevented judicial candidates from taking positions on "disputed or political issues."

But then the Pennsylvania justices decided to go a bit further, adopting a new rule that prevents judicial candidates from making statements that "commit or appear to commit" them to positions on matters likely to come before the court.

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Since most political debates are about matters that could end up in court sooner or later, the second ruling effectively nullifies the first and creates confusion in the process.

The Associated Press reports that high court candidates are taking widely differing approaches, with Max Baer offering support for abortion rights and the death penalty while Joan Orie Melvin declines to provide anything other than her qualifications for office.

Melvin's approach makes the most sense, because campaign statements about issues would likely become ammunition for defense attorneys trying to argue that a judge couldn't be objective about a case.

The best indication of how a judge will rule in the future is how he or she has decided cases in the past, not some promise made in the heat of a political campaign. Would-be judges who promise too much may only end up compromising the integrity they'll need on the bench.

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