Pennsylvania Supreme Court

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1722
Chief:  $206,000
Associates:  $200,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Active justices

J. Michael Eakin  •  Thomas Saylor  •  Max Baer  •  Debra Todd  •  Correale Stevens  •  

Seal of Pennsylvania.png

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the court of last resort for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was established by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1722 as a successor to a Provincial Appellate Court that had been established in 1684. It is the oldest continually sitting appellate court in North America.


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected byParty
Justice J. Michael Eakin2001-2021ElectedRepublican
Chief justice Thomas Saylor1998-2017ElectedRepublican
Justice Max Baer2003 - 2023ElectedDemocratic
Justice Debra Todd2000-2017ElectedDemocratic
Justice Correale Stevens2013-2016Gov. Tom CorbettRepublican

Chief justice

The justice with the longest continuous service on the supreme court automatically becomes Chief Justice.

Ronald Castille is currently the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He was first elected to the court as a Republican in a partisan election in 1993.


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is an appellate court, with limited original jurisdiction.[1][2] Original jurisdiction is only in cases of habeas corpus, mandamus, and quo warranto.[3] It meets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg.

Judicial selection

The Pennsylvania Supreme court consists of seven justices each elected to ten-year terms. Supreme court judicial candidates may run on party tickets. The justice with the longest continuous service on the supreme court automatically becomes Chief Justice. Supreme Court justices, like other Pennsylvania judges, are subject to mandatory retirement when they turn 70 years old. After the ten-year term expires, a statewide YES/NO vote for retention is conducted. If the judge is retained, he/she serves another ten-year term. If the judge is not retained, the governor, subject to the approval of the State Senate, appoints a temporary replacement until a special election can be held. As of 2005, only one judge has failed to win retention. Justice Russell Nigro received a majority of "NO" votes in the election of 2005 and was replaced by Justice Cynthia Baldwin, who was appointed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2005.


A qualified candidate must be a member of the Bar of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a citizen of the state.[4]

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Pennsylvania received a score of -0.02. Based on the justices selected, Pennsylvania was the 24th most liberal court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[5]

Removal of justices


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 253
2013 199
2012 228
2011 251
2010 206
2009 220
2008 241
2007 225


  • Pennsylvania does not provide statistics on its Supreme Court dispositions.

Notable decisions


Justice Orie Melvin removed from court

In 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted of various counts of corruption and was removed from the court. For more on this, see Melvin's page.

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Pennsylvania earned a grade of D in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[13]

History of the court

The Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which houses the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Interior of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Courtroom

The original Pennsylvania constitutions, drafted by William Penn, established a Provincial Court under the control of his British governors. The General Assembly, however, espoused the principle of separation of powers and formally called for a third branch of government starting with the 1701 Judiciary Bill. In 1722, the appointed British governor needed the House to raise revenues. House leaders agreed to raise taxes in return for an independent Supreme Court. Predating the Supreme Court of the United States by 67 years, Pennsylvania's highest court was established by the General Assembly on May 22, 1722. Interpreting the Pennsylvania Constitution, it was the first independent Supreme Court in the United States with the power to declare laws made by an elected legislative body unconstitutional. Under the 1874 Constitution until the Pennsylvania state constitution of 1968, Supreme Court justices were elected to 21 year terms. At the time, it was the longest term of any elected office in the United States.

Notable firsts

Composition and rules

Prior to 2002, judicial candidates in Pennsylvania were prohibited from expressing their views on disputed legal or political issues. But after a similar law in Minnesota was struck down as unconstitutional (Republican Party of Minnesota v. White), the Pennsylvania rules were amended and judicial candidates may now express political viewpoints as long as they do not “commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.” (PA Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (B)(1)(c)).

See also

External links



Three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are up for election in 2015--the most this court has ever seen in one election year. Chief Justice Ronald Castille retired due to reaching the age of mandatory retirement, Justice Correale Stevens's temporary term to replace criminally convicted former Justice Joan Orie Melvin is expiring, and Seamus P. McCaffery retired in October 2014 amidst misconduct allegations.[1]

See also: Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections, 2015
See also: Pennsylvania judicial elections, 2015

Candidates competing for three open seats

Primary election, 2015
    Democratic Dwayne D. Woodruff
    Democratic Christine Donohue
    Democratic Kevin M. Dougherty
    Democratic John H. Foradora
    Democratic David N. Wecht
    Democratic Anne Lazarus
    Republican Judith Olson
    Republican Correale Stevens
    Republican Michael A. George
    Republican Cheryl Lynn Allen
    Republican Anne Covey
    Republican Rebecca L. Warren


Race background

Three open seats are up for grabs on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. Going into the primary, there are 12 candidates running for the court. One open seat was the result of the retirement of Chief Justice Ronald Castille in December 2014. The other two seats were made vacant by resignations. The first vacancy was created by Justice Joan Orie Melvin in May 2013 after her conviction for campaign corruption. The second resignation was by Justice Seamus P. McCaffery in October 2014 for both his implication in an FBI investigation involving the exchange of referral fees between his wife and several law firms, and for his involvement in a scandal whereby sexually-explicit emails were forwarded from his personal email account to court employees.

Justice Correale Stevens was appointed to the bench by Governor Tom Corbett (R) in June 2013 to replace Joan Orie Melvin. He is running in 2015 to keep his seat on the court. The court currently has a 3-2 majority for Republicans with the balance of the court at stake in this year's election.[3]

Campaign cash in the primary

Three candidates reported campaign war chests exceeding $500,000 in finance reports filed on April 7. Kevin M. Dougherty (D) took the cash-on-hand lead with $584,666.22 in the bank, followed by David N. Wecht (D) at $546,220.24 and Michael A. George (R) at $508,459.63. Eight of the nine remaining primary candidates totaled approximately $898,000 on hand by early April, with Rebecca L. Warren (R) with a negative cash balance. The fundraising advantage through March rested with Democratic candidates, who totaled $1.94 million on hand compared to $595,000 for Republican candidates.[4]

Pre-primary campaign finance[5]
Candidate Party Cash on hand ($) Highest contribution ($) Contributor(s)
Kevin M. Dougherty Electiondot.png Democratic 584,666.22 100,000 Local Union #98 I.B.E.W. Committee On Political Education
David N. Wecht Electiondot.png Democratic 546,220.24 25,000 Daniel Berger, Attorney
Michael A. George Ends.png Republican 508,459.63 500,000 Gary Lowenthal, Founder, Boyds Bears
John H. Foradora Electiondot.png Democratic 391,074.05 100,000 John H. Foradora
Anne Lazarus Electiondot.png Democratic 262,093.08 75,000 Anne Lazarus
Christine Donohue Electiondot.png Democratic 184,727.00 5,000 Commonwealth Heritage PAC, I.B.E.W. Local 5, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel and 13 individual donors
Anne Covey Ends.png Republican 56,540.38 25,000 PA Future Fund
Correale Stevens Ends.png Republican 44,101.58 5,000 Pennsylvania Society of Physicians Assistants, Gillespie, Miscavige, Ferdinand & Baranko LLC and four individual donors
Dwayne D. Woodruff Electiondot.png Democratic 29,514.80 5,000 Arthur J. Rooney II, President, Pittsburgh Steelers Football Club
Cheryl Lynn Allen Ends.png Republican 17,135.00 10,000 Eldora Ellison, Retired
Judith Olson Ends.png Republican 842.06 1,000 Carl G. Grefenstette, Director, Hillman Foundation
Rebecca L. Warren Ends.png Republican -2,668.35 5,000 Rebecca L. Warren
April 8 candidate forum

A candidate forum at the Free Library of Philadelphia on April 8 showcased candidate concerns over the influence of money in judicial elections. Five candidates participated in the forum: Anne Lazarus (D), John H. Foradora (D), David N. Wecht (D), Dwayne D. Woodruff (D) and Cheryl Lynn Allen (R). All of the candidates at the forum argued that more campaign cash presented issues for judicial races though none believed that eliminating elections would be the right solution. Foradora argued that campaign cash potentially damages the court's integrity while Woodruff suggested that higher finance requirements presented a barrier to entry for qualified candidates. Allen advocated for nonpartisan elections as a counterweight to increasing partisanship on the court.[6]

Failed nominations

In February 2015, Governor Tom Wolfe nominated both Ken Gormley, a law professor for the Duquesne University School of Law, and Judge Thomas Kistler of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas. However, after a questionable Christmas email sent by Kistler and a halt to confirm Gormley, Wolfe said he planned no further nominations to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.[7]

Kistler asked that his nomination be withdrawn after a report surfaced of a racially insensitive e-greeting sent out by Kistler to friends in 2013. The e-greeting depicts a black couple, with the male in incarceration wearing prison garb behind a glass window and his female visitor speaking to him via a jailhouse phone. The caption attached to the e-greeting said "Merry Christmas from the Johnsons," and Kistler sent the greeting with a subject heading of "Best Christmas card ever."[8]

Gormley's nomination came under scrutiny when reports of harassment complaints filed in 2006 against Gormley were circulated among the Senate Judiciary Committee. An internal Duquesne University report, that had been cited in a lawsuit filed against Gormley, recommended that Gormley not supervise women due to the fact that he had shared "an unsubstantiated rumor" regarding a female professor. The suit was later settled by the female professor and the university.[8]


See also: Pennsylvania judicial elections, 2013
JudgeRetention voteRetention Vote %
CastilleRonald Castille   ApprovedA 68.5%ApprovedA
BaerMax Baer   ApprovedA 71.0%ApprovedA


See also: Pennsylvania judicial elections, 2011
The following is a list of candidates for the Supreme Court 2011 election:
CandidateIncumbencyDistrictPrimary VoteElection Vote
EakinJ. Michael Eakin   ApprovedAYesDistrict 2, Division D   ApprovedA

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found