Pennsylvania Democrats sweep statewide court races amid Supreme Court focus – Pennsylvania Capital-Star
Democrats swept the race for four statewide judicial seats on Tuesday, flipping the partisan balance of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court and restoring a five-member majority on the state’s highest court.
In addition to Judge Daniel McCaffery’s election to the state Supreme Court, attorney Jill Beck and Philadelphia Judge Tamika Lane won seats on the Superior Court while Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Matthew Wolf won a seat on the Commonwealth Court, according to unofficial results from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The Superior and Commonwealth courts are the first, and often only, courts of appeal in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court handles appeals in criminal cases and civil disputes between private parties and businesses. The Commonwealth Court handles lawsuits against the state and appeals of decisions by state and local regulatory agencies.
The Supreme Court showdown between McCaffery, who currently sits on the Superior Court, and Republican Carolyn Carluccio, the president judge in Montgomery County, garnered most of the attention and upwards of $17 million in spending. But candidates for the lower courts also attracted endorsements from groups on either side of the abortion issue.
Along with Carluccio, Republican Superior Court candidates Maria Battista, an attorney, and Westmoreland County Judge Harry Smail; and Commonwealth Court candidate Megan Martin, an attorney, received endorsements from the Pro-Life Federation Political Action Committee.
Beck, Lane and Wolf, meanwhile, were endorsed by Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC.
Beck was the top vote winner in the Superior Court race with nearly 28% of the vote. Lane received just more than 25% of the vote, less than 1% ahead of Battista but enough to avoid an automatic recount under state law, according to unofficial results. Smail received about 22.5% of the vote.
Wolf defeated Martin by a 4% margin with about 52% of the vote.
Pennsylvania judges are elected to 10-year terms, after which they may run for retention without facing a challenger. Two Superior Court judges, Jack Panella and Victor Stabile, faced retention this year. Panella won retention with a “yes” vote of more than 67% while Stabile was retained with a 61% vote.
About 3 million votes were cast in the Supreme Court election, which was at the top of Tuesday’s ballot. That’s about 35% of the 8.6 million voters registered in Pennsylvania as of Oct. 6, according to the Department of State.
Deborah Gross, president of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said voter turnout for judicial elections was a concern this year as in years past. PMC advocates for judicial impartiality, fairness, accessibility and respect and reforms to promote access to justice.
Gross said it appeared that fewer voters participated in the elections for lower courts. About 30,000 fewer votes were cast in the Commonwealth Court election than in the Supreme Court election, according to unofficial results.
In the retention races, between 400,000 and 500,000 fewer votes were cast than in the Supreme Court election.
Gross said that shows voters don’t understand the candidates or the process. PMC has advocated for decades to stop electing judges and establish a system in which they are appointed based on experience and other merits, she said.
“The dollar figures for these elections keep going up. The number of negative ads keeps going up. But the number of voters doesn’t,” Gross said.
Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Peter Hall