Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
|Supreme Court of Pennsylvania|
|Established||May 22, 1722|
|Country||Pennsylvania, United States|
|Composition method||Partisanly elected, retained by yes/no vote|
|Authorized by||Pennsylvania Constitution|
|Judge term length||10 years|
|Number of positions||7|
|Currently||Thomas G. Saylor|
|Since||January 6, 2015|
|Lead position ends||December 2017|
|Jurist term ends||December 2017|
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It also claims to be the oldest court in the United States, which claim is disputed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania began in 1684 as the Provincial Court, and casual references to it as the "Supreme Court" of Pennsylvania were made official in 1722 upon its reorganization as an entity separate from the control of the royal governor. Today, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania maintains a discretionary docket, meaning that the Court may choose which cases it accepts, with the exception of mandatory death penalty appeals, and certain appeals from the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. This discretion allows the Court to wield powerful influence on the formation and interpretation of Pennsylvania law.
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.
Composition and rules
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 75, but 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.
Prior to 2002, judicial candidates in Pennsylvania were prohibited from expressing their views on disputed legal or political issues. However, 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))
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.
|Name||Born||Elected||Party When First Elected||Year of Next Retention Election||Reaches Age 75||Prior Positions and Education|
Thomas G. Saylor (Chief Justice)
|Somerset County, PennsylvaniaDecember 14, 1946 in||1997 (retained in 2007)||Republican||2017||December 14, 2021||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).|
|Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaDecember 24, 1947 in||2003 (retained in 2013)||Democratic||None – final term||December 24, 2022||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).|
|Ellwood City, PennsylvaniaOctober 15, 1957 in||2007||Democratic||2017||October 15, 2032||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).|
|Christine Donohue||Coaldale, PennsylvaniaDecember 24, 1952 in||2015||Democratic||2025||December 24, 2027||Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2008–2015); Private Practice, (1980–2007); J.D., Duquesne University School of Law (1980); B.A., East Stroudsburg University (1974).|
|Kevin Dougherty||Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaMay 19, 1962 in||2015||Democratic||2025||May 19, 2037||Judge, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas (2001–2016); Private Practice, (1995–2001); Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia County (1990–1995);J.D., Antioch School of Law (1987); B.A., Temple University (1985).|
|David Wecht||Baltimore, MarylandMay 20, 1962 in||2015||Democratic||2025||May 20, 2037||Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2012–2015); Judge, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas (2003–2012); Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans' Court, Allegheny County; Law Clerk, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Judge George MacKinnon; J.D., Yale Law School (1987); B.A., Yale University (1984).|
|Sallie Updyke Mundy||Elmira, New YorkJune 29, 1962 in||appointed in 2016||Republican||None – interim justice||June 29, 2037||Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (2010–2016); Private Practice (1988-2009); Volunteer Public Defender, Public Defender's Office of Tioga County; Law Clerk, Tioga County Court of Common Pleas (1987-1988); J.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Law (1987); B.A., Washington and Jefferson College (1984).|
- Rowe, G. S. (1994). Embattled bench: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the forging of a democratic society, 1684-1809. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
- See generally,' 'Pa.R.A.P. 1112
- "Judicial Qualifications, Election, Tenure and Vacancies". The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
- "Pennsylvania Code". pacode.com.
- Judicial Biographies, Pennsylvania Appellate Judges, Superior Court. http://www.pabar.org/pdf/lawdirectory/PAAppellateCrtJudicialBios.pdf.