Search
Close this search box.

Category: PA Courts

A seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up for grabs in November as Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio vie for the seat vacated by the passing of Max Baer.

There is plenty of time to continue to delve into the pluses and minuses of each campaign, so we thought we’d focus today on the Court itself.

Bolts Magazine has put together a guide to how each state’s Supreme Court is chosen, organized and the powers each has delegated to it under state constitutions. We are highlighting the Pennsylvania portion but recommend a bookmark for the complete package.

“Every state and territory has its own supreme court and every supreme court has tremendous power over legal cases and public policy within its borders—but the resemblances end there. No two courts are exactly the same. Each has its rules and idiosyncrasies, each comes with different procedures for how someone becomes and stays a judge, and each has a distinct set of roles and functions.

This research was conducted by Quinn Yeargain, an assistant professor of law at Widener University. Daniel Nichanian contributed to the preparation of this page.”

Click on the arrow below.

 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

  
Size of the court

This court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.

Judicial electionsPennsylvania holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and two are Republicans; one seat has been vacant since the death of a Democratic justice in 2022. The court last flipped, from the GOP to Democrats, in 2015.

2. Paths to sitting on this court

  
How a justice joins this court

Pennsylvania has unusually complex rules for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens when a vacancy arises during a justice’s term.

Someone can also join the court through an election. But not all elections allow for that possibility in this state: Outsiders can run for a seat only if there’s no incumbent running, or if the incumbent is an appointed justice who has never yet faced voters. (If any other incumbent is running, the election is a retention race and new candidates cannot run at that time.)

Judicial elections are always held in odd-numbered years.

When a term ends

A regular term lasts 10 years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term. If they’ve never yet faced voters, this is a partisan election featuring party primaries followed by a general election.

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, then it’s a retention election in which they need to obtain a majority to stay on the court.

Note that, if a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, the state organizes an open election in which any eligible candidate can run.

When there is a vacancy

When a seat is vacant, the governor can nominate a replacement; that nominee must then be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate.

To stay on the court, a new justice must face voters in the next odd-year election cycle taking place at least ten months after their appointment. This is a partisan election in which they may face challengers; the winner only serves the remainder of the interrupted term.

Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and must have resided in the state for the year immediately preceding joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

  
Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
Discipline

Justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal; at that point, a separate body called Court of Judicial Discipline examines the matter. (Both bodies are composed of a mix of judges, judicial appointees, and gubernatorial appointees.)

RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

  
The court’s appellate jurisdiction

This is the highest court in Pennsylvania and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.)

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.

How most cases reach this court

This supreme court reviews their decisions of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court, which generally handles government and election law cases, and the Superior Court, which handles criminal cases and other civil cases.

It also reviews some trial court decisions, as well as the decisions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Other paths to hearing a case

Many types of trial court cases are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Those include decisions by courts of common pleas in cases that involve the right to public office, the qualifications of a judge, death sentences, the supersession of a district attorney by the attorney general; the right of a jurisdiction contracting debt. The same is true of cases where the court of common pleas has struck down as unconstitutional any treaty, constitutional provision, statute, or part of a home rule charter.

In addition, cases that are challenging legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

The court may also exercise its “King’s Bench power,” an authority that involves addressing a matter that is not even pending in courts. It may also choose to intervene in a case no matter what stage of the judicial process it’s at.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

  
Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court as a whole supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs, and set the boundaries of magisterial districts (these are home to hyperlocal courts).
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Pennsylvania, from the location of grand juries to the administration of oaths. The court does not set bail schedules. In addition, the chief justice appoints three of the members of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationAlmost none, but if the result in a governor’s election is contested, the chief justice is meant to preside over the trial that would take place in the legislature, and rule on legal questions presented in proceedings.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the four members of the legislative redistricting commission are unable to select a fifth member as they are tasked to do so, that authority is handed to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

A seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up for grabs in November as Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio vie for the seat vacated by the passing of Max Baer.

There is plenty of time to continue to delve into the pluses and minuses of each campaign, so we thought we’d focus today on the Court itself.

Bolts Magazine has put together a guide to how each state’s Supreme Court is chosen, organized and the powers each has delegated to it under state constitutions. We are highlighting the Pennsylvania portion but recommend a bookmark for the complete package.

“Every state and territory has its own supreme court and every supreme court has tremendous power over legal cases and public policy within its borders—but the resemblances end there. No two courts are exactly the same. Each has its rules and idiosyncrasies, each comes with different procedures for how someone becomes and stays a judge, and each has a distinct set of roles and functions.

This research was conducted by Quinn Yeargain, an assistant professor of law at Widener University. Daniel Nichanian contributed to the preparation of this page.”

Click on the arrow below.

 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

  
Size of the court

This court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.

Judicial electionsPennsylvania holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and two are Republicans; one seat has been vacant since the death of a Democratic justice in 2022. The court last flipped, from the GOP to Democrats, in 2015.

2. Paths to sitting on this court

  
How a justice joins this court

Pennsylvania has unusually complex rules for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens when a vacancy arises during a justice’s term.

Someone can also join the court through an election. But not all elections allow for that possibility in this state: Outsiders can run for a seat only if there’s no incumbent running, or if the incumbent is an appointed justice who has never yet faced voters. (If any other incumbent is running, the election is a retention race and new candidates cannot run at that time.)

Judicial elections are always held in odd-numbered years.

When a term ends

A regular term lasts 10 years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term. If they’ve never yet faced voters, this is a partisan election featuring party primaries followed by a general election.

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, then it’s a retention election in which they need to obtain a majority to stay on the court.

Note that, if a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, the state organizes an open election in which any eligible candidate can run.

When there is a vacancy

When a seat is vacant, the governor can nominate a replacement; that nominee must then be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate.

To stay on the court, a new justice must face voters in the next odd-year election cycle taking place at least ten months after their appointment. This is a partisan election in which they may face challengers; the winner only serves the remainder of the interrupted term.

Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and must have resided in the state for the year immediately preceding joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

  
Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
Discipline

Justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal; at that point, a separate body called Court of Judicial Discipline examines the matter. (Both bodies are composed of a mix of judges, judicial appointees, and gubernatorial appointees.)

RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

  
The court’s appellate jurisdiction

This is the highest court in Pennsylvania and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.)

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.

How most cases reach this court

This supreme court reviews their decisions of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court, which generally handles government and election law cases, and the Superior Court, which handles criminal cases and other civil cases.

It also reviews some trial court decisions, as well as the decisions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Other paths to hearing a case

Many types of trial court cases are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Those include decisions by courts of common pleas in cases that involve the right to public office, the qualifications of a judge, death sentences, the supersession of a district attorney by the attorney general; the right of a jurisdiction contracting debt. The same is true of cases where the court of common pleas has struck down as unconstitutional any treaty, constitutional provision, statute, or part of a home rule charter.

In addition, cases that are challenging legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

The court may also exercise its “King’s Bench power,” an authority that involves addressing a matter that is not even pending in courts. It may also choose to intervene in a case no matter what stage of the judicial process it’s at.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

  
Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court as a whole supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs, and set the boundaries of magisterial districts (these are home to hyperlocal courts).
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Pennsylvania, from the location of grand juries to the administration of oaths. The court does not set bail schedules. In addition, the chief justice appoints three of the members of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationAlmost none, but if the result in a governor’s election is contested, the chief justice is meant to preside over the trial that would take place in the legislature, and rule on legal questions presented in proceedings.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the four members of the legislative redistricting commission are unable to select a fifth member as they are tasked to do so, that authority is handed to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.
Email:

A seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up for grabs in November as Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio vie for the seat vacated by the passing of Max Baer.

There is plenty of time to continue to delve into the pluses and minuses of each campaign, so we thought we’d focus today on the Court itself.

Bolts Magazine has put together a guide to how each state’s Supreme Court is chosen, organized and the powers each has delegated to it under state constitutions. We are highlighting the Pennsylvania portion but recommend a bookmark for the complete package.

“Every state and territory has its own supreme court and every supreme court has tremendous power over legal cases and public policy within its borders—but the resemblances end there. No two courts are exactly the same. Each has its rules and idiosyncrasies, each comes with different procedures for how someone becomes and stays a judge, and each has a distinct set of roles and functions.

This research was conducted by Quinn Yeargain, an assistant professor of law at Widener University. Daniel Nichanian contributed to the preparation of this page.”

Click on the arrow below.

 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

  
Size of the court

This court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.

Judicial electionsPennsylvania holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and two are Republicans; one seat has been vacant since the death of a Democratic justice in 2022. The court last flipped, from the GOP to Democrats, in 2015.

2. Paths to sitting on this court

  
How a justice joins this court

Pennsylvania has unusually complex rules for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens when a vacancy arises during a justice’s term.

Someone can also join the court through an election. But not all elections allow for that possibility in this state: Outsiders can run for a seat only if there’s no incumbent running, or if the incumbent is an appointed justice who has never yet faced voters. (If any other incumbent is running, the election is a retention race and new candidates cannot run at that time.)

Judicial elections are always held in odd-numbered years.

When a term ends

A regular term lasts 10 years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term. If they’ve never yet faced voters, this is a partisan election featuring party primaries followed by a general election.

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, then it’s a retention election in which they need to obtain a majority to stay on the court.

Note that, if a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, the state organizes an open election in which any eligible candidate can run.

When there is a vacancy

When a seat is vacant, the governor can nominate a replacement; that nominee must then be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate.

To stay on the court, a new justice must face voters in the next odd-year election cycle taking place at least ten months after their appointment. This is a partisan election in which they may face challengers; the winner only serves the remainder of the interrupted term.

Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and must have resided in the state for the year immediately preceding joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

  
Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
Discipline

Justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal; at that point, a separate body called Court of Judicial Discipline examines the matter. (Both bodies are composed of a mix of judges, judicial appointees, and gubernatorial appointees.)

RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

  
The court’s appellate jurisdiction

This is the highest court in Pennsylvania and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.)

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.

How most cases reach this court

This supreme court reviews their decisions of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court, which generally handles government and election law cases, and the Superior Court, which handles criminal cases and other civil cases.

It also reviews some trial court decisions, as well as the decisions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Other paths to hearing a case

Many types of trial court cases are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Those include decisions by courts of common pleas in cases that involve the right to public office, the qualifications of a judge, death sentences, the supersession of a district attorney by the attorney general; the right of a jurisdiction contracting debt. The same is true of cases where the court of common pleas has struck down as unconstitutional any treaty, constitutional provision, statute, or part of a home rule charter.

In addition, cases that are challenging legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

The court may also exercise its “King’s Bench power,” an authority that involves addressing a matter that is not even pending in courts. It may also choose to intervene in a case no matter what stage of the judicial process it’s at.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

  
Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court as a whole supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs, and set the boundaries of magisterial districts (these are home to hyperlocal courts).
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Pennsylvania, from the location of grand juries to the administration of oaths. The court does not set bail schedules. In addition, the chief justice appoints three of the members of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationAlmost none, but if the result in a governor’s election is contested, the chief justice is meant to preside over the trial that would take place in the legislature, and rule on legal questions presented in proceedings.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the four members of the legislative redistricting commission are unable to select a fifth member as they are tasked to do so, that authority is handed to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

A seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is up for grabs in November as Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio vie for the seat vacated by the passing of Max Baer.

There is plenty of time to continue to delve into the pluses and minuses of each campaign, so we thought we’d focus today on the Court itself.

Bolts Magazine has put together a guide to how each state’s Supreme Court is chosen, organized and the powers each has delegated to it under state constitutions. We are highlighting the Pennsylvania portion but recommend a bookmark for the complete package.

“Every state and territory has its own supreme court and every supreme court has tremendous power over legal cases and public policy within its borders—but the resemblances end there. No two courts are exactly the same. Each has its rules and idiosyncrasies, each comes with different procedures for how someone becomes and stays a judge, and each has a distinct set of roles and functions.

This research was conducted by Quinn Yeargain, an assistant professor of law at Widener University. Daniel Nichanian contributed to the preparation of this page.”

Click on the arrow below.

 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

  
Size of the court

This court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.

Judicial electionsPennsylvania holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and two are Republicans; one seat has been vacant since the death of a Democratic justice in 2022. The court last flipped, from the GOP to Democrats, in 2015.

2. Paths to sitting on this court

  
How a justice joins this court

Pennsylvania has unusually complex rules for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens when a vacancy arises during a justice’s term.

Someone can also join the court through an election. But not all elections allow for that possibility in this state: Outsiders can run for a seat only if there’s no incumbent running, or if the incumbent is an appointed justice who has never yet faced voters. (If any other incumbent is running, the election is a retention race and new candidates cannot run at that time.)

Judicial elections are always held in odd-numbered years.

When a term ends

A regular term lasts 10 years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term. If they’ve never yet faced voters, this is a partisan election featuring party primaries followed by a general election.

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, then it’s a retention election in which they need to obtain a majority to stay on the court.

Note that, if a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, the state organizes an open election in which any eligible candidate can run.

When there is a vacancy

When a seat is vacant, the governor can nominate a replacement; that nominee must then be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate.

To stay on the court, a new justice must face voters in the next odd-year election cycle taking place at least ten months after their appointment. This is a partisan election in which they may face challengers; the winner only serves the remainder of the interrupted term.

Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and must have resided in the state for the year immediately preceding joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

  
Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
Discipline

Justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal; at that point, a separate body called Court of Judicial Discipline examines the matter. (Both bodies are composed of a mix of judges, judicial appointees, and gubernatorial appointees.)

RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

  
The court’s appellate jurisdiction

This is the highest court in Pennsylvania and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.)

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.

How most cases reach this court

This supreme court reviews their decisions of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court, which generally handles government and election law cases, and the Superior Court, which handles criminal cases and other civil cases.

It also reviews some trial court decisions, as well as the decisions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Other paths to hearing a case

Many types of trial court cases are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Those include decisions by courts of common pleas in cases that involve the right to public office, the qualifications of a judge, death sentences, the supersession of a district attorney by the attorney general; the right of a jurisdiction contracting debt. The same is true of cases where the court of common pleas has struck down as unconstitutional any treaty, constitutional provision, statute, or part of a home rule charter.

In addition, cases that are challenging legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

The court may also exercise its “King’s Bench power,” an authority that involves addressing a matter that is not even pending in courts. It may also choose to intervene in a case no matter what stage of the judicial process it’s at.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

  
Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court as a whole supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs, and set the boundaries of magisterial districts (these are home to hyperlocal courts).
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Pennsylvania, from the location of grand juries to the administration of oaths. The court does not set bail schedules. In addition, the chief justice appoints three of the members of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationAlmost none, but if the result in a governor’s election is contested, the chief justice is meant to preside over the trial that would take place in the legislature, and rule on legal questions presented in proceedings.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the four members of the legislative redistricting commission are unable to select a fifth member as they are tasked to do so, that authority is handed to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.
  • Do you agree that ByteDance should be forced to divest TikTok?


    • Yes. It's a national security risk. (60%)
    • No. It's an app used by millions and poses no threat. (40%)
    • What's ByteDance? (0%)

    Total Voters: 30

    Loading ... Loading ...
Continue to Browser

PoliticsPA

To install tap and choose
Add to Home Screen