Check out the website:  Look at previous State Supreme Court Notes on the website. Political Note $274 Jill Karofsky WI Supreme Court, Political Note #296 Ohio Supreme Court (John P O’Donnell and Jennifer L. Brunner), Political Note #302 MI Supreme Court (Bridget Mary McCormack and Elizabeth Welch)

June 14, 2021          Political Note #391   Maria McLaughlin Pennsylvania Supreme Court

2021                           General election

Do not underestimate the importance of State Supreme Court elections.  Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has had a powerful impact on life in Pennsylvania and on the United States.

In early 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts violated the state constitution.  The Court ruled 4-3 that it would create new maps in time for the spring primaries.  Because the decision was based Pennsylvania’s constitution, the US Supreme Court’s unwillingness to have a role in dealing with gerrymandering, except for racial purposes, was irrelevant.

The Pennsylvania Court met its deadline. It announced a new Congressional map in February, 2018. The new map had a consequence.  In 2016, Pennsylvania had elected 13 Republicans to Congress and 5 Democrats.  In November 2018, after the redistricting drawn by an out of state academic hired by and following guidelines of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Commonwealth, generally understood to be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans elected 9 Republicans and 9 Democrats to Congress.

After the 2020 election, Pennsylvania still had an 9-9 division.  If Pennsylvania’s representation in Congress had remained 13 Republicans and 5 Democrats, Republicans would today have a majority in the United States House of Representatives.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is elected state wide.  It is composed of seven justices.  Each are elected to a ten-year term. When a justice’s term expires, he or she is subjected to a referendum.  If a justice fails to get majority support in the referendum, he or she steps down.  The Governor, subject to approval of the State Senate, a replacement, who serves until a special election is called.

After a justice turns 75 he or she must step down from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The retirement triggers a special election.  Elections of justices are partisan.  Like any other public office, Democrats and Republicans nominate a candidate. The voting public chooses who the new justice will be.  The longest serving justice on the Supreme Court becomes the Chief Justice.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is now composed of five justices nominated by the Democratic Party and two nominated by the Republican Party.  Thomas G. Saylor is one of the two nominated by Republicans.  He will turn 75 on December14, 2021.  He has retired from his role as Chief Justice in anticipation of his retirement from the Court.  If a justice nominated by the Democrats is elected in November, 2021 Democrats will have a 6-1 majority.  If a Republican nominee is elected, Democrats will retain their 5-2 majority.

The Democratic candidate to replace Thomas Saylor is Maria McLaughlin She grew up in the Overbrook section north of northwest Philadelphia.  A cheerleader at West Catholic High School, she won a partial cheerleading scholarship to Penn State. Without that scholarship, she says, she would not have been able to attend college.  After graduating from Penn State in 1988, she earned her JD in 1992 at Widener University’s Delaware Law School – a school in Wilmington Delaware that became affiliated with Chester, Pennsylvania’s Widener University in 1975.

Immediately after graduating from Law School, Maria McLaughlin went to work at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office where Lynne Abraham had recently begun what would be nearly 20 years as Philadelphia’s District Attorney.  In 2002, after a decade at the DA’s office, Maria McLaughlin became chief of the family law division.  She resigned from that role in 2011 to run for the elected office of Judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

As a single mother of two sons, her run for that office was a personal challenge as well as a political one.  She was elected and in 2017 ran successfully for election again – this time for a 10-year term as one of the fifteen judges in the State Superior Court, Pennsylvania’s intermediate appeals court for almost all civil and criminal cases.

Maria McLaughlin is now married to a long-time figure in Philadelphia politics – Jonathan Saidel. He was the City Controller for Philadelphia – initially elected in 1989, he retired from that post in 2006.  When Maria McLaughlin and Jonathan Saidel married, he was the father of four children; she was the mother of two.

These days, we describe how people identify themselves.  Maria McLaughlin, the daughter of an Italian immigrant mother identifies as Italian. So do her sons, one of whom was a chef in Puglia, Italy until he returned to the US because of the pandemic.

Maria McLaughlin converted to Judaism in 2011.  You could say that she also identifies as Jewish.  She comments that Judaism, as a religion grounded in law, is particularly appropriate for someone who aspires to be or serves as a judge.

What kind of Supreme Court Justice would Maria McLaugnlin be?  If you look through ordinary search processes, you find times when she would uphold decisions of juries notwithstanding what she viewed as minor errors by the prosecution. Her endorsements are also a clue.  She is endorsed by Democratic elected and appointed officials. She is also endorsed by labor unions, by the Philadelphia Tribune, by the Philadelphia Gay News, by African American organizations, and by the Working Families Party.

Her Republican opponent is Kevin Brobson, the President Judge on Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court – Pennsylvania’s other intermediate appeals court which deals with government cases.  He has been endorsed by business organizations.  The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed him saying that voters should they choose him would get someone who will rule in favor of limited government and limited activism by the judiciary.  Brobson supported state limitations on municipalities ability to control the availability of guns.

Pennsylvania used to prevent candidates for judicial positions from speaking about legal views at all.  Now Pennsylvania law prevents comments that bear on specific cases.  We know enough about the views of Maria McLaughlin and Kevin Brobson to know what we need to know about the kind of judges they might be.  Pennsylvania will be a better place if Maria McLaughlin is elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  Fifty-five years old, if elected she is likely to be on the Court for twenty years.  Send her resources. Get her elected.

Ballotpedia reports that Pennsylvania is the only state supreme court with an election in 2021.  That report may not be accurate.  Their report about upcoming judicial elections in 2022 may also have inaccuracies. To make these reports accurate, you have to know when judges are turning 70 or 75 – typical mandatory retirement ages.  I have updated the Ballotpedia report to change their projection of a retention vote in Pennsylvania to a Partisan Election.  As I wrote above, their most senior judge will be 75 in 2022 and will resign.  As I write Notes about upcoming judicial elections for 2021 or 2022, I will update Ballotpedia’s list.


2022 State Supreme Court Elections

Alabama                   2 seats          Partisan Election    November

Arkansas                  3 seats          Non-Partisan           March

Georgia                     1 seat             Non-Partisan           May

Idaho                         2 seats          Non-Partisan           May

Illinois                       2 seats          Partisan                    November

Kentucky                  3 seats          Non-Partisan           November

Louisiana                 1 seat             Partisan                    December

Michigan                   2 seats          Non-Partisan           November

Minnesota                1 seat             Non-Partisan           November

Montana                    2 seats          Non-Partisan           November

North Carolina        2 seats          Partisan                    November

North Dakota           1 seat             Non-Partisan           November

Ohio                           3 seats          Non-Partisan           November

Oregon                      1 seat             Non-Partisan           November

Pennsylvania          1 seat             Partisan                    November

Tennessee               3 seats          Partisan                    November

Texas                         5 seats          Partisan                    November

Washington             2 seats          Non-Partisan           November



State Supreme Court Retention Votes

Alaska                       1 seat                                                 November

Arizona                     3 seats                                              November

California                  3 seats                                              November

Colorado                  1 seat                                                 November

Florida                       3 seats                                              November

Indiana                      1 seat                                                 November

Kansas                      5 seats                                              November

Maryland                  1 seat                                                 November

Missouri                    1 seat                                                 November

Nebraska                  4 seats                                              November

Oklahoma                 3 seats                                              November

South Dakota          3 seats                                              November

Utah                           1 seat                                                 November

Wyoming                  1 seat                                                 November