Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Seal of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.svg
Established May 22, 1722; 299 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

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, 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.[1]

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))[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]


Current members

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 74) 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).

Michael Eakin (suspended)

(1948-11-18) November 18, 1948 (age 72) 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 73) 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 63) 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).
Christine Donohue (1952-12-24) December 24, 1952 (age 68) in Coaldale, Pennsylvania 2015 Democratic None – final term December 24, 2022 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 (1962-05-19) May 19, 1962 (age 59) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2015 Democratic 2025 May 19, 2032 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 (1962-05-20) May 20, 1962 (age 59) in Baltimore, Maryland[3] 2015 Democratic 2025 May 20, 2032 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).

Justice Eakin was suspended indefinitely on December 22, 2015 by the Court of Judicial Discipline while he awaits trial before that court on charges that he sent and received inappropriate e-mails, including on government computers and servers.

See also


  1. "Judicial Qualifications, Election, Tenure and Vacancies". The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Pennsylvania Code".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Judicial Biographies, Pennsylvania Appellate Judges, Superior Court.

External links

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