It Is Judicial Election Season…And Judges Matter


“Pennsylvania is the only state in the country to hold judicial elections solely in odd-numbered years. This year, 2015, three of the seven seats on the state supreme court are up for election. Additionally, there is one vacancy on both the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the state’s two intermediate appellate courts. There are also contested common pleas court races in Philadelphia, Allegheny, Northampton, Erie, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Greene, Chester, Somerset, York, Berks, Delaware, Montgomery, Franklin, Bradford, Cambria, Adams and Lawrence counties.”

Judicial elections in Pennsylvania generally have very low media coverage. Citizen interest or participation in judicial elections also tends to be low.  We hear voters complain that they have very little information available to them to help in making decisions between candidates. And at the same time, judicial candidates are prohibited from stating their views on issues that are likely to come before them in the court. It is difficult to know. Yet, it all matters.

Judges wield enormous power. They make decisions that affect our everyday lives. Depending on the circumstances, judges can halt strikes and work stoppages, force companies, public agencies and individuals to take certain actions, overrule elected officials and impose checks and balances to protect our freedoms. In fact, there is hardly an issue of importance to everyday life that doesn’t land in front of a judge at one time or another.

Just like other candidates who run for office in contested elections, judicial candidates must raise money to finance their campaigns. Typically, contributors to such campaigns are the very parties, litigants and lawyers who ultimately appear before the courts on which the candidates are seeking to serve.  Additionally, third party special interest groups have become increasingly active in judicial elections, funding advertising campaigns and making contributions to candidates. Rules of conduct do not require judges to recuse themselves in cases involving campaign contributors.

What’s a voter to do?  First, try a little homework on the internet.  Research the judicial candidates, all of them, by name. Evaluate their experience, their record and other relevant information. Talk to your friends. Review both political party recommendations. And by all means, review the local LWVCC Voters Guide!  Finally, get to the polls and VOTE – all the way down the ballot!  Our Judges matter…

Susan Carty

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