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Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the court of last resort for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It meets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings on ballot measures

Year Type Ballot measure Legal issue Plaintiff Defendant Court ruling Impact
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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 United States Supreme Court 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.

Composition and rules

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. Justices, like other Pennsylvania judges, are subject to mandatory retirement when they turn 70 years old.

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))[1]

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 M. Nigro received a majority of "NO" votes in the election of 2005 and was replaced by Justice Cynthia Baldwin, who was appointed by Governor Rendell in 2005.

Only one Supreme Court Justice, Rolf Larsen, has been removed from office by impeachment. In 1994, the State House of Representatives handed down articles of impeachment consisting of seven counts of misconduct. A majority of the State Senate voted against Larsen in five of the seven counts but only one charge garnered the two-thirds majority needed to convict.

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.

Current members

Name Born Elected Prior positions

Ronald Castille (Chief Justice)

March 16, 1944 (1944-03-16) (age 63) in Miami, Florida 1993 Private practice (1991–1993); District Attorney of Philadelphia (1986–1991); Deputy District Attorney, Philadelphia (1971–1985)

Thomas Saylor

1997 Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1993–1997); Private practice (1987–1993); First Deputy Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1983–1987); Director, Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection (1982–1983); First Assistant District Attorney, Somerset County, Pennsylvania (1973–1976); Private practice (1972–1982);

J. Michael Eakin

November 18, 1948 (age 59) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania 2001 Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1995–2001); District Attorney, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (1984–1995); Private practice (1980–1989); Assistant District Attorney, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (1975–1983);

Max Baer

December 24, 1947 (age 60) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 2003 Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (1989–2003); Private practice (1980–1989); Deputy Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1975–1979);

Debra Todd

October 15, 1957 (age 50) in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania 2007 Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2000–2007); Private practice (1982–1999);

Seamus McCaffery

June 3, 1950 (age 57) in Belfast, Northern Ireland 2007 Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2003–2008); Municipal Judge of Philadelphia (1993–2003);



External links