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These Judges Don't Put Defendants into Prison

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By Walter Brasch

HARRISBURG, Pa.--By Tuesday's election, the seven candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have spent about $10 million.

Their expenditures can be seen in lawn signs decorating almost every part of the state's landscape, in millions of full color postcards, some as large as 8-1/2 x 11, mailed to almost every voter in the state, and in TV ads.

They have already spent about $4 million for TV ads, many promoting each one's own qualifications, most of the ads attacking the other candidates.

There are three vacancies on the Court because two of the justices had to resign over scandals. One justice used her staff to do personal work for her. One justice was implicated in a sex scandal. The other reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

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In most elections, the voters barely know who the candidates are and randomly select one. Because of a massive publicity campaign--largely funded by outside organizations--we have had as much exposure to the judicial candidates as we are enduring from the presidential candidates.

The judicial candidates are primarily focusing on how tough and how fair they are as judges who will put the bad guys and gals into prison, and how they will be able to bring integrity back to the Supreme Court.

But, bringing integrity to the court and putting away the guilty is not the role of the state Supreme Court.

Supreme Court justices review appeals in both civil and criminal cases to see if there were judicial improprieties or if there were defendant's rights violations. The Supreme Court also looks at cases, which may be an individual suing government, to determine if there were constitutional violations. The Supreme Court also oversees the conduct and business operations of the lower courts.

The Supreme Court, at least in theory, is non-partisan, but it was a Republican-dominated Supreme Court that allowed the legislature to gerrymander Congressional districts to benefit the Republicans.

With this campaign looking more like a political contest, and with the Republican slate of three candidates and the Democratic slate of three candidates viciously attacking each other, the voters should be more concerned with why does this race seem to be more important than any other, what will be the direction this branch of government will be taking, the scholarly and constitutional knowledge of the future justices, and not if a candidate is tough on crime.

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)

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