Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Seal of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.svg
Established May 22, 1722; 293 years ago (1722-05-22)
Country Pennsylvania, United States
Location Harrisburg
Composition method Partisanly elected, retained by yes/no vote
Authorized by Pennsylvania Constitution
Judge term length 10 years
Number of positions 7
Website Official site
Chief Justice
Currently Thomas G. Saylor
Since January 6, 2015
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is located in Pennsylvania
Court locations

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Judges' seats in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's chambers in the Pennsylvania State Capitol

The original Pennsylvania constitutions, drafted by William Penn, established a Provincial Court under the control of his British governors. The General Assembly, however, espoused the principle of separation of powers and formally called for a third branch of government starting with the 1701 Judiciary Bill. In 1722, the appointed British governor needed the House to raise revenues. House leaders agreed to raise taxes in return for an independent Supreme Court.

Predating the United States Supreme Court by 67 years, Pennsylvania's highest court was established by the General Assembly on May 22, 1722. Interpreting the Pennsylvania Constitution, it was the first independent Supreme Court in the United States with the power to declare laws made by an elected legislative body unconstitutional.

Mural on the wall of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's chambers in the Pennsylvania State Capitol

Composition and rules[edit]

The court meets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court consists of seven justices, each elected to ten year terms. Supreme Court judicial candidates may run on party tickets. The justice with the longest continuous service on the court automatically becomes Chief Justice. Justices must step down from the Supreme Court when they reach the age of 70, although they may continue to serve part-time as "senior justices" on panels of the Commonwealth's lower appellate courts until they reach 78, the age of mandatory retirement.[1]

Prior to 2002, judicial candidates in Pennsylvania were prohibited from expressing their views on disputed legal or political issues. But after a similar law in Minnesota was struck down as unconstitutional (Republican Party of Minnesota v. White), the Pennsylvania rules were amended and judicial candidates may now express political viewpoints as long as they do not “commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.” (PA Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (B)(1)(c))[2]

After the ten-year term expires, a statewide yes or no vote for retention is conducted. If the judge is retained, he/she serves another ten-year term. If the judge is not retained, the governor — subject to the approval of the State Senate — appoints a temporary replacement until a special election can be held. As of 2005, only one judge has failed to win retention. Justice Russell M. Nigro received a majority of no votes in the election of 2005 and was replaced by Justice Cynthia Baldwin, who was appointed by Governor Rendell in 2005.

Only one Supreme Court Justice, Rolf Larsen, has been removed from office by impeachment. In 1994, the State House of Representatives handed down articles of impeachment consisting of seven counts of misconduct. A majority of the State Senate voted against Larsen in five of the seven counts but only one charge garnered the two-thirds majority needed to convict.

Under the 1874 Constitution and until the Pennsylvania state constitution of 1968, Supreme Court justices were elected to 21 year terms. At the time, it was the longest term of any elected office in the United States.[citation needed]

Supreme Court Justices[edit]

Current members[edit]

Name Born Elected Party When First Elected Year of Next Retention Election Reaches Age 70 Prior Positions and Education

Thomas G. Saylor (Chief Justice)

(1946-12-14) December 14, 1946 (age 68) in Somerset County, Pennsylvania 1997 (retained in 2007) Republican None – final term December 12, 2016 Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1993–1997); Private Practice (1987–1993); First Deputy Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1983–1987); Director, Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection (1982–1983); First Assistant District Attorney, Somerset County (1973–1976); Private Practice (1972–1982); J.D., Columbia Law School (1972); B.A., University of Virginia (1969).

J. Michael Eakin

(1948-11-18) November 18, 1948 (age 66) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania 2001 (retained in 2011) Republican None – final term November 18, 2018 Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1995–2001); District Attorney, Cumberland County (1984–1995); Private Practice (1980–1989); Assistant District Attorney, Cumberland County (1975–1983); J.D., Dickinson School of Law (1975); B.A., Franklin & Marshall College (1970).

Max Baer

(1947-12-24) December 24, 1947 (age 67) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 2003 (retained in 2013) Democratic None – final term December 24, 2017 Judge, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (1989–2003); Private Practice (1980–1989); Deputy Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1975–1979); J.D., Duquesne University School of Law (1975); B.A., University of Pittsburgh (1971).

Debra Todd

(1957-10-15) October 15, 1957 (age 57) in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania 2007 Democratic 2017 October 15, 2027 Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2000–2007); Private Practice (1982–1999); J.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Law (1982); B.A., Chatham College (1979).

Correale F. Stevens

(1946-10-06) October 6, 1946 (age 68) in Hazleton, Pennsylvania Appointed in 2013 Republican None – Interim Justice October 6, 2016 Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (1998-2013); Judge, Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas (1991–1998); District Attorney, Luzerne County (1988–1991); Representative, Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1980–1988); J.D., Dickinson School of Law (1972); A.B., Pennsylvania State University (1969).



Justice Correale F. Stevens was appointed by Governor Tom Corbett to replace Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who resigned effective May 1, 2013, following conviction on public corruption charges involving the illegal use of judicial staff in her unsuccessful 2003 and her successful 2009 election campaigns for the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens was confirmed by the Pennsylvania State Senate on June 30, 2013,[3] and sworn in on July 30, 2013.[4] Justice Stevens will serve through the end of 2015, when a new Justice can be elected. A vacancy was created when Justice Seamus McCaffery resigned on October 27, 2014, following his suspension by his fellow justices.[5] A second vacancy was created when Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille reached age 70 mandatory retirement effective at year end on December 31, 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Judicial Qualifications, Election, Tenure and Vacancies". The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. 
  2. ^ "Pennsylvania Code". 
  3. ^ "PA Supreme Court again at full strength". Philadelphia Inquirer. 30 June 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  4. ^ "Correale Stevens sworn in as Pa. high court justice". Penn Live. 31 July 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "Justice McCaffery steps down from Pennsylvania Supreme Court". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. October 27, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°15′51″N 76°53′01″W / 40.264260°N 76.883578°W / 40.264260; -76.883578