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PA Supreme Court: Money, Endorsements May Tip Scale In Primary

You’ve seen them mixed in with all the signs for local candidates along the side of the road.

County commissioner. Township supervisor. School Board. Supreme Court Judge.

You may say, wait! Supreme Court Judge?

Yes, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, we in Pennsylvania elect our judges – even to the highest bench in the Commonwealth.

And with a vacancy on the state’s high court, the battle is on in both parties to put their endorsed candidate in the best position to make it through the primary and onto the November ballot.

Democrats hold a 4-2 majority on the bench, following the passing of Chief Justice Max Baer. While the majority cannot change in 2023, it is important for the GOP to narrow the margin as the three Democrats elected in 2015 – Kevin M. Dougherty (D), David Wecht (D) and Christine Donohue (D) – are up for retention votes in 2025.

Republicans will decide between Carolyn Carluccio and Patricia McCullough. Carluccio, 62, is the first female President Judge in the history of Montgomery County. A former federal assistant U.S. Attorney, she also served as Montco’s first female Chief Public Defender and first Chief Solicitor. Carluccio is “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and is the endorsed candidate by the Pennsylvania GOP.

Her opponent is Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough. The 66-year-old was elected to the Commonwealth Court in 2009 and ran for the state supreme court in 2021, losing to Kevin Brobson in the Republican primary. A former trial judge with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, she has ruled that Act 77 permitting the use of mail ballots is unconstitutional, upheld the Second Amendment four times in 2022, and presided over the 2022 Congressional redistricting trial and ruled in favor of the legislature. McCullough, who was not recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association for failure to participate, has been endorsed by state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the PA Pro-Life Federation and PA For Freedom.

Carluccio raised over $225,000 in the most recent campaign finance filing with the Department of State that covered the period from March 28-May 1. A pair of political action committees – Northeast Leadership Fund and PA Future Fund have each kicked in $25,000 to her campaign, while five others – Building Together PAC, Commonwealth Heritage PAC, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Keystone Free Enterprise Fund and Pennsylvania Rising – each tossed in $5,000.

Two real estate groups – the University City Housing Company and the Tornetta Realty Company – contributed $25,000 and $10,000, respectively, while David White, a candidate for the GOP nomination for governor in 2022, gave $5,000. The campaign also reported receiving an in-kind contribution from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund for mailings totaling $250,000.

While Carluccio spent nearly $250,000 last period and still has $78,000 in the bank, McCullough has just under $19,000 cash in hand entering the homestretch. She raised just south of $9,000 during the same period while spending just $765. McCullough’s largest donor was Sean D. Smarick who contributed $5,000.

On the Democratic side, a pair of Pennsylvania Superior Court justices will square off in Deborah Kunselman and Daniel McCaffrey.

Kunselman has served as Beaver County solicitor , was elected as a judge in the county in 2006, and won a seat on the Superior Court in 2017. McCaffrey, an Army veteran, served as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, was elected as a judge in the city in 2013 and earned a spot on the Superior Court in 2019. He is the endorsed candidate of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

He raised over $100,000 during the last cycle while spending nearly $300,000. McCaffrey still has $244,129.67 cash on hand. He has received a number of large gifts from PACs, totaling $155,000,  including $50,000 from the Drive Committee, $30,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Political League, and $15,000 from IUPAT DC21 ($15,000). The PA Democrats also made an in-kind contribution ($72,169.16) for design, production and postage of his mailer

Kunselman raised just over $23,000 during April and has $31,125.63 in hand for the final week. Her largest contributors include attorneys Harry Kunselman, her brother-in-law, and Gary Ogg who each put $2,000 into the pot.

Both candidates are “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar.

Established in 1722, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the oldest appellate court in the country. As the state’s highest court, the seven justices make the final decisions interpreting Pennsylvania’s laws and Constitution, have full administrative authority over Pennsylvania’s judicial system and hear cases involving issues of immediate public importance arising in any court in the Commonwealth.

Judicial elections occur in odd-numbered years. Justices and judges may serve an unlimited number of terms until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 and are retained or re-elected by the voters. Vacancies that exist before an election may be filled by gubernatorial appointment until an election is held. These selections are subject to Senate confirmation.

3 Responses

  1. you forgot to note that the January 2023 ‘endorsement’ of Philadelphian mc caffery by the Pa Dem State committee was engineered by Philadelphian Shariff Street violating the committee bylaws by ‘forgetting’ to distribute to all members, with required 30 days’ notice, his proposed bylaws amendment giving the Chair the sole power to declare ‘a second round’ endorsement vote in the supreme court race.

    1. You “forgot” that her CM was one of the people on Rules that made the motion to pass the rule or that the chair put it to a floor vote again before moving forward and that Judge Kunselman was consulted. There was not a single objection on the floor, including from her CM. He was endorsed with 72% of the body. Are you suggesting 72% of the voting members should have their voice silenced because the outcome was not what the Kunselman campaign had hoped? The bylaws do not provide or PREVENT a second vote, hence the Rules Committee was well within their authority to act and again her Campaign Manager is a voting member of rules and participated in the entire process.


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