Pennsylvania Voters Can Impact the Rule of Law

Our impact on the Rule of Law and how it plays out in our judicial system is far greater than many Americans. We are one of just eight states with partisan elections for all levels of our state judiciary.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

It shouldn’t take the indictment of a former president to remind us of the importance of living in a nation governed by a representative democracy, yet here we find ourselves reflecting on just that.

As former President Donald Trump has found out in more ways than one, this structure of government gives the people the ability to hold those in power accountable for their actions – both directly and indirectly.

In November of 2020, the former president found out what it was like when the American people made their voices heard directly via the ballot box. And now, via the federal judiciary system – not to mention the ongoing and potential state charges swarming his orbit, he’s about to experience one of those indirect accountability measures as well — the Rule of Law.

The Rule of Law is a fundamental principle that is essential to maintain a functioning democracy. It ensures that all people and organizations within a country, state, or community are held accountable to the same set of laws. This ensures fairness and equality for all citizens regardless of their political beliefs or backgrounds.

The United States has long been known for its commitment to the Rule of Law. Elected officials are required to uphold the law and citizens can hold them accountable if they fail to do so. This helps create an environment where everyone is treated equally under the law and encourages citizens to participate in their political climate.

For Pennsylvanians, our impact on the Rule of Law and how it plays out in our judicial system is far greater than many Americans. Remember, we are one of just eight states with partisan elections for all levels of our state judiciary. This means every two years voters across the Commonwealth head to the ballot box – not to determine who will speak on our behalf in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. – but instead to select and/or retain which individuals we will entrust to be arbiters at all levels of our court system.

READ: Pennsylvanians Can’t Afford To Ignore Judicial Elections In 2023

And while being indicted over illegal retention of classified documents isn’t a worry for most everyday Pennsylvanians, it’s worth remembering that those we elect to the judge’s bench this fall are the elected officials we are most likely to interact with at some point in our lives. Whether it be fighting a speeding ticket, filing for divorce or protecting our voting rights, the judges we speak before in those circumstances are the very ones who we have elected or retained.

Yet despite this fact, far too many of us sit out these judicial elections. Look no further than Philadelphia as an example. In 2020, 66 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia cast a ballot. Come 2022, that number dipped to 46 percent turnout. Yet the local, judicial, municipal election that took place between those two years in 2021 saw just 18 percent of eligible Philadelphians voting. 

That begs the question: why aren’t we more engaged in our ability to impact the Rule of Law here in Pennsylvania?

Is it because local, judicial, municipal elections are less publicized? Is it because we don’t see the correlation these individuals have in our everyday lives? Is it a lack of familiarity with the positions on our ballots and what these judges do? Whatever the answer is, all Pennsylvanians need to ask themselves the question sooner rather than later, lest we continue to allow a minority of voters to have an outsized influence on electing judges that impact the majority of us.

The November election will be here before we know it and despite its lack of noteworthyness, its results will have long-standing and wide-ranging implications for the Commonwealth.

After all, it’s these judges who ultimately dictate how the laws are applied to any and everybody. And as we continue to be reminded, no one is above the Rule of Law, not even former presidents of the United States.

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Khalif Ali

Khalif Ali

Khalif Ali is the Director of the New Pennsylvania Project. A Pittsburgh resident with a background in community organizing/engagement and public policy, Khalif has been working closely with community-based organizations, local government, foundations, and individual activists to craft and advance a progressive policy and advocacy agenda. Vulnerable populations are at the center of his work.

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