2013 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent memory vis-a-vis statewide judicial elections, primarily because of the extenuating circumstances surrounding two potential Supreme Court races.
Here’s a quick reader of the biggest things to watch as these races take shape. The Pa. Supreme Court is the final stop for cases pertaining to state law. The Pa. Superior Court has little to do with policy; rather, it most commonly hears appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas in various Pa. counties.
1. Ron Castille. His seat on the court may or may not be open this year. The Chief Justice of the Pa. Supreme Court has earned a maverick’s reputation of late, particularly when he joined the Democratic judges to throw out the GOP-drawn redistricting maps. He’s 68 now, 2 years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Pa. judges. He appears to be leaning toward a run for retention, according to a recent interview he did with Captiolwire. “I feel like I have earned the right to stay” on the court, “until I resolve a few more things,” he told Pete DeCoursey.
Republicans aren’t thrilled at the idea. Should Castille win retention, he’d have to retire (or not – see #4 below) and his seat would go to the voters in 2015, the year that Philly goes to the polls for local elections and an advantage for Dems. He’s a Republican and former Philadelphia District Attorney. He won his seat in 1993.
2. Joan Orie Melvin. The embattled justice is facing charges of political corruption similar to those that saw her sister, Pa. Senator Jane Orie, convicted. Her trial is set for January. If she’s cleared, nothing happens. If tried, convicted and sentenced before mid-March, her Supreme Court seat would go to the voters in 2013. If she is sentenced too close to the May 20 primary (within 60 days or later), Gov. Tom Corbett would get to appoint her successor on a temporary basis and her seat would go to the voters in 2015. She’s a Republican and won her seat in 2009.
3. Max Baer. The 64 year-old Justice won his seat in 2003. He’s one of three Democrats on the Pa. Supreme Court and he’s expected to run for retention.
4. Bye bye age limits? Presently, the Pa. Constitution mandates that judges retire at age 70. But several Pa. judges have just filed a lawsuit to challenge that rule. They say it’s age discrimination. If the Governor can serve at 80, why must a judge retire at 70? Their suit is a longshot; retirement ages have been upheld by the Pa. and U.S. Supreme Court. But it may be enough to entice Castille to run for retention in the hope that something will change.
“As a 68-year-old,… personally I think there’s a lot of judges who can function at an extremely high level past an arbitrary age of 70. … Some people might not be able to function, but not having the physical or mental ability is not a matter of age,” Castille told Capitolwire.
5. Open Superior Court seat. Judge John Musmanno is 70 and retiring at the end of his term. He’s a Democrat, first elected in 1997. Republicans look likely to tap Vic Stabile, a prominent attorney who ran for the post in 2011. We’re hearing several Democratic names.