Go out and vote on Tuesday!! Do it!! It’s important!! Tuesday is Election Day for Philadelphia’s city council and mayoral elections, as well as for Pennsylvania’s Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. While it’s easy to feel apathetic towards what appears to be a fairly unimportant and boring election, the Supreme Court election is shaping up to be one of the most historic and consequential elections in recent Pennsylvania history. Three Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent candidate will be running for three of the seven total Supreme Court seats. This is a huge deal; it’s been over three hundred years since a Pennsylvania Supreme Court had three open seats for election. Furthermore, the roughly $10 million that has been poured into the election has made it one of the most expensive Pennsylvania state elections in history. These open seats come at a very significant time and offer Pennsylvania’s infamous and scandal-ridden Supreme Court a much-needed chance to rebuild itself. Although justices aren’t theoretically meant to be “political” actors, this race has very high political stakes and will have a significant impact on the future of Pennsylvanian politics, so you should vote.
The three Democrats running for justice are David Wecht, who’s running on a platform of increasing judicial transparency; Kevin Dougherty, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas with a strong commitment to at-risk youth; and Christine Donohue, who has worked to end bias against LGBT parents in custody cases. Each of these candidates has been “recommended” or “highly-recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and each has been endorsed by the the AFL-CIO among other, smaller organizations. On the Republican side, there’s the moderate Judy Olson, a Superior Court Justice who advocates for judicial restraint; Anne Covey, who was remarkably labeled “not recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association; and Mike George, a Judge in Adams County’s Court of Common Pleas who’s notoriously tough on crime (he brags about sentencing someone to death on his campaign website). Finally, there’s Paul P. Panepinto, who, according to his website, is “Proven, Professional, Passionate,” and a big fan of alliteration. The elected candidates will serve for ten years, and will hold significant influence over the future of Pennsylvania law and politics.
Arguably the most important political power the Supreme Court holds is over the redistricting of state Senate and House districts. Pennsylvania undergoes redistricting every ten years, so these new justices, who will be serving at least until 2025, will still be serving when Pennsylvania’s new district map is created after the 2020 census. Redistricting is critical for Senate and House elections, as district lines are often gerrymandered in ways that protect incumbents and thus favor whichever party controls the legislature. The last two district maps have been created by Republican-controlled Houses and Senates, we now have ridiculously drawn districts like the 7th Congressional District, which was practically invented for Republican Rep. Pat Meehan. The Supreme Court appoints the chair of the state redistricting commission, which essentially works to break the tie between the two Democrats and two Republicans in the commission. Although this commission is only for redistricting State House and Senate districts, an appointed Democrat could curb Republican gerrymandering, which wouldn’t just be a nice way to get more Democrats in the legislature, but would be a truer commitment to democracy.
The elected Supreme Court justices will also likely preside over hotly debated issues like LGBT discrimination, gun laws, voter identification, and education funding. Currently in Pennsylvania, LGBT people can be legally discriminated against in the workplace and for housing, which is completely unacceptable. We need to elect Democratic justices who will take a stand for the rights of all people. Additionally, while Philadelphians generally advocate for stricter gun laws, the Republicans in the state legislature have largely refused to consider even basic gun regulations. The Courts, then, have the pivotal role of deciding whether local gun laws need to defer to state law, and the ease with which the NRA can sue cities that try to regulate firearms. There’s also been a recent Republican push across the country for voter ID laws that greatly restrict people’s right to vote. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently struck down a voter ID law as unconstitutional, but it’s likely that similar laws will arise in the future. The issue of education funding, particularly for Philadelphia, is huge. Recently, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia called the General Assembly’s treatment of education unconstitutional, and asked for a court-order to force the Assembly to uphold Pennsylvania’s constitutional commitment to public education. The court-order was denied, but the group has appealed to the Supreme Court, where their case will be decided soon. These, and many more issues will be at stake in Pennsylvania in the near future, so it is important that Democrats show up at the polls and vote if they want to see change.
Go out and vote on Tuesday! If you’re a Democrat, you should vote! If you’re a Republican, you should vote! State elections are important, so you should vote! Gerrymandering and democracy are important, so you should vote! LGBT rights are important, so you should vote! Gun regulation is important, so you should vote! Voting rights are important, so you should vote! Education funding is important, so you should vote! The future of our state is important, so you should vote!