Melvin and Baer debate elections, personal opinions


What should be the standards for same-sex adoption? How do you feel about the election of… What should be the standards for same-sex adoption? How do you feel about the election of judges? What is the role of prisons in our society?

These were just some of the questions asked by a student panel at a debate between the two candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, held last Thursday night in the Teplitz Moot Courtroom, located inside Pitt’s Law School Building.

Candidates Judge Joan Orie Melvin, the republican nominee, and Judge Max Baer, the democratic nominee, participated in the debate.

Melvin has served on the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County, as well as a magistrate for the City of Pittsburgh and as a judge for the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Baer has served as Deputy Attorney General, as well as in the juvenile, family, and civil divisions of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.

Hosted by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and organized by both state and local members, the debate was one of a series of non-partisan events designed to increase voter knowledge about the candidates.

“We were thrilled to do this,” said Carol Emerson, vice president of voter service for the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.

“We knew that this was an important race,” she added.

A panel of law students each asked one question of the candidates. These questions alternated with questions from the moderator, John Burkoff, the associate dean of academic affairs in Pitt’s law school.

The subjects discussed ranged from the candidates’ role models to the role of the judiciary system in the public sphere.

A major theme throughout the debate focused on whether it was proper for a judge to express personal views in public, or whether judges should remain silent on certain issues to better serve those who expect a completely impartial courtroom.

Baer said the public has a right to know about the views of the judge they are electing, while Melvin felt that judges should not state their views on certain issues, in order to remain impartial.

“I consider myself to be a neutral arbiter,” Melvin said.

The election of judges within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was also discussed. Both judges were in favor of some kind of hybrid system, in which judges were still elected but had to meet certain prerequisites before running for a position.

The debate, which was televised on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, was well attended by both students and non-students interested in learning more about whom they will be voting for on Election Day on Tuesday, November 4.

“I felt very lucky for them to come by here and spend their time,” Pitt Senior Hayden Carter said. “They both really impressed me.”