The old adage states you don’t fix something that isn’t broken. The Pennsylvania Legislature has violated this wise advice by taking unconstitutional action that threatens the integrity of the commonwealth’s judicial system.
Since 1868, the elected representatives of the office of Jury Commissioner have made sure that the jury selection process in Pennsylvania has been fair and that plaintiffs and defendants in civil and criminal cases have had an impartial jury.
Act 4, the law passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor earlier this year, will effectively eliminate the office of Jury Commissioner by allowing county commissioners to vote to abolish the office. The Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners is challenging the new law. We expect the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will make the final decision.
The Legislature has violated the state’s Constitution by taking control over a function of the judiciary. To allow Act 4 to stand would pose a challenge to the judiciary’s independence. Act 4 doesn’t even offer a replacement system. Each county would have its own way of selecting juries. This doesn’t bode well for the system’s integrity.
The selection of juries is a vital part of our judicial system. The system has worked for 145 years. Jury Commissioners have done their job well over all the years and have been a barrier to prevent political interference and corruption in the jury selection process.
Thompson is the president of the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners.