It’s an “off-year” for elections – we don’t vote for President, Governor, or for state or federal congressional representatives. But this is still an important election year. This year, Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to vote for judges and municipal officials – positions that make decisions that affect our everyday lives.
*For this blog, we list candidates in the order they appear on ballots. CCJ is a 501c3 nonprofit, which means we do not endorse any political candidates for office.
This year, every registered voter in the state will have the opportunity to choose four new judges to serve on our commonwealth’s highest and intermediate courts. Two of the positions could be consequential to the future environmental regulations and democracy.
After Chief Justice Max Baer unexpectedly passed away last year, the Commonwealth was left with an open seat on the court. The Supreme Court chooses which cases it takes and is the final decision maker on state law. In recent years, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned our congressional maps to protect against gerrymandering, ordered counties to set aside undated mail-in ballots, and eliminated Governor Wolfe’s mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judges in Pennsylvania are partisan, which is rare. The Supreme Court is currently made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, so this election is not enough to flip majority control of the court. However, in 2025, three Democrat justices are up for retention, which means that influential billionaires like Jeffrey Yass are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on this race this year to improve their chances of a favorable election night in 2025.
There are two candidates for the seat – Judge Daniel McCaffery (D) and Judge Carolyn Carluccio (R). Both are highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association – meaning they have “ the highest combination of legal ability, experience, integrity and temperament and would be capable of outstanding performance as a judge or justice of the court for which he/she is a candidate.” Since their capabilities are similar, voters should select the candidate they think will rule in favor of their important issues. For insight, read more about the candidates and their judicial philosophy here.
There is also an open seat on the Commonwealth Court. This is an intermediate court that hears appeals from cases involving local and state government and regulatory agencies. This court also functions as the trial court brought against or by the Commonwealth.
This year, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s funding formula for public schools is unconstitutional. Right now, they also have the opportunity to rule on whether we stay in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – as long as the Supreme Court doesn’t rule on the merits first.
Republicans are the majority on the bench in the Commonwealth Court with five justices to three democratic justices. Once again, the election this year will not affect the partisan makeup – it gives democrats the chance to gain the majority in the next election. If a Democrat is elected this year, Republicans would only have a one seat majority which means that one seat would decide control of the court in 2025.
Judges Matt Wolf (D) and Megan Martin (R) are running for the seat. The judges are both recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association which means they would be able to perform satisfactorily on the Commonwealth Court and the competencies are similar. Learn more about the candidates and their judicial philosophy here to help make a decision.
There are also two seats open on the Superior Court, but this court is less likely to send down decisions that affect all Pennsylvanians. Typically they hear appeals from civil cases involving private parties and criminal cases.
Four candidates are running for the position, two democrats and two republicans. Learn more about each of them here.
At the end of the ballot, voters will see questions asking whether judges should be retained for an additional term. Essentially, this question is asking whether the judges are doing a good job and if they should keep it for the next ten years.
Two judges on the Superior Court are up for retention – President Judge Jack Panella, a Democrat, and Victor Stabile, a Republican.
However, these aren’t the only elections happening this year. There are also county-wide and municipal elections in 2024. Read more about those in Part 2!