PA Supreme Court victory helps Democrats secure majority for years to come

Judge Daniel McCaffery getting ready to vote on Election Day at his polling place in Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

November 14, 2023

Judge Daniel McCaffery’s Supreme Court victory gives Pennsylvania Democrats a roadmap to controlling the court going into the 2030s and protects reproductive rights for years to come. 

Democrats locked up the Pennsylvania Supreme Court going into 2030 thanks to Judge Daniel McCaffery’s decisive six-point victory on Election Day.

The impacts of McCaffery’s victory will have ripple effects for years to come, especially when it comes to preserving reproductive freedoms.

“We’ve seen opposition across the country use the courts to come for our rights. And I think that Planned Parenthood and partners in state really raised the stakes and made it really clear that that could be a possibility here in Pennsylvania,” Signe Espinoza, the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said in an interview.

Democrats and reproductive rights supporters turned the Supreme Court race into a referendum on protecting reproductive rights after The Keystone caught Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio removing a resume promoting her anti-abortion views from her campaign website.

Planned Parenthood Votes, the reproductive rights group’s national political arm, ran multiple media campaigns highlighting Carluccio’s anti-abortion views. This included a six figure social media campaign and a seven-figure advertising campaign in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh media markets.

Espinoza believes that protecting reproductive rights and access to abortion won’t be going away in any upcoming elections.

“I think the truth is that it is our job now to make sure that folks understand the true state of play of abortion access in [Pennsylvania] as states, surrounding states, and other states across the country continue to ban abortion. That’s going to have an impact on a state like Pennsylvania.”

Democrats have held a 5-2 majority on the bench for much of the past decade, but their majority fell to 4-2 after the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in September 2022, giving the Republicans a path to retake the court by the 2030 election. Those hopes evaporated on election day after Democrats regained their 5-2 majority.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, talked about the significance of the Democratic Party winning the open seat.

“The Democratic majority on the court is a significant majority in this case,” Borick said. “Unless we see some major, historic shifts in things like departures or a retention vote, this will mean that the Democrats have control for an extended period of time, one of the three branches of government in Pennsylvania.”

Republicans  could try to run a “no” campaign when three Democratic justices are up for retention elections—races where voters vote yes or no on whether to reelect judges in 2025— but pulling off a successful “no” campaign comes with extremely long odds.

Borick said that it would be hard for Republicans to successfully pull off a “no” vote on a retention campaign given its challenges.

“I think it is a long shot given the history of retention votes and the challenges of running a statewide effort to remove justice,” Borick said. “I think there’s a bunch of barriers working against that psychologically in terms of how voters approach these things.”

 

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