Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System. It also claims to be the oldest appellate court in the United States,[1] a claim that is disputed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.[2] 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.[3][4]

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
EstablishedMay 22, 1722 (1722-05-22)
(1684 as Provincial Court)
Composition methodpartisan election with "Yes/No" retention election at end-of-term
Authorized byConstitution of Pennsylvania
Appeals fromSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Judge term length10 years
Number of positions7
WebsitePennsylvania Supreme Court website
Chief Justice
CurrentlyDebra Todd
SinceOctober 1, 2022 (2022-10-01)
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is located in Pennsylvania
The three locations of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh

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.[5] This discretion allows the Court to wield powerful influence on the formation and interpretation of Pennsylvania law.

History edit

A writ signed in 1702 by then Provincial Court of Pennsylvania chief justice John Guest
The original chambers of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Independence Hall
Justices' seats in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's chambers in the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg
A mural on the wall of 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. Until 1776, legislation and judicial decisions in Pennsylvania, as in various American colonies, were subject to review by the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in London.

Between 1780 and 1808, a Pennsylvania High Court of Errors and Appeals existed, which was the court of last resort in Pennsylvania. After that court's dissolution in 1808, the Commonwealth's Supreme Court became, and remains, the court of last resort in the Pennsylvania judiciary.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania predates the United States Supreme Court by more than 100 years. Interpreting the Pennsylvania Constitution, it was one of the first appellate courts in the United States to claim the power to declare laws made by an elected legislative body unconstitutional (Respublica v. Duquet, 2 Yeates 493 (1799)).

Composition and rules edit

The court meets in three cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg.

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 (at the end of the calendar year), 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.[6]

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))[7]

After the ten-year term expires, a statewide yes or no vote for retention is conducted. A judge who retained 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.[8]

Justices edit

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania consists of seven members who are elected to ten-year terms as justices.

Current members edit

Justice[9] Born Joined Term ends Mandatory retirement[a] Party affiliation Appointed by Law school
Debra Todd, Chief Justice (1957-10-15) October 15, 1957 (age 66) January 7, 2008[b] 2027 2032 Democratic [c] Pittsburgh
Christine Donohue (1952-12-24) December 24, 1952 (age 71) January 4, 2016 2025 2027 Democratic [c] Duquesne
Kevin Dougherty (1962-05-19) May 19, 1962 (age 61) January 4, 2016 2025 2037 Democratic [c] Antioch
David Wecht (1962-05-20) May 20, 1962 (age 61) January 4, 2016 2025 2037 Democratic [c] Yale
Sallie Updyke Mundy (1962-06-29) June 29, 1962 (age 61) July 21, 2016 2027 2037 Republican Tom Wolf (D) Pittsburgh
Kevin Brobson (1970-11-26) November 26, 1970 (age 53) January 3, 2022 2031 2045 Republican [c] Widener
Daniel McCaffery (1964-07-20) July 20, 1964 (age 59) January 2, 2024 2033 2039 Democratic [c] Temple
  1. ^ Justices must retire by the last day (December 31) of the calendar year in which they reach the age of 75.[10]
  2. ^ Justice Todd became the Chief Justice on November 1, 2022 due to the death of the previous Chief Justice Max Baer.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Took office after being elected in a partisan election.

Important cases edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Supreme Court – Courts – Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania". Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  2. ^ sjc (July 17, 2013). "About the Supreme Judicial Court". Court System. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  3. ^ "About the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania – SCOPA Review". Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  4. ^ Rowe, G. S. (1994). Embattled bench: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the forging of a democratic society, 1684–1809. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
  5. ^ See generally, Pa.R.A.P. 1112
  6. ^ "Judicial Qualifications, Election, Tenure and Vacancies". The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
  7. ^ "Pennsylvania Code".
  8. ^ "Pennsylvania Supreme Court - Ballotpedia". Ballotpedia. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  9. ^ "Supreme Court Justices". Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
  10. ^ "Constitution of Pennsylvania - Article V §16".
  11. ^ Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 471 Pa. 546, [1] (March 31, 1975)
  12. ^ League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 159 MM 2018, [2] (PA February 19, 2018)
  13. ^ Pennsylvania v. Williams, 105 A.3d 1234 (Pa. 2014), [3] (PA December 15, 2014)
  14. ^ Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15–5040, [4] (US June 9, 2016)
  15. ^ Pennsylvania v. Davis, No. 56-2018, [5] (PA November 29, 2019)
  16. ^ Crocker, Andrew (November 20, 2019). "Victory: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Police Can't Force You to Tell Them Your Password". Eff.
  17. ^ Pennsylvania v. Cosby, No. 39-2020, [6] (PA June 30, 2021)
  18. ^ "Bill Cosby's Conviction Is Overturned: Read the Court's Opinion". The New York Times. June 30, 2021. Retrieved October 28, 2022.
  19. ^ Pennsylvania v. Bar II, No. 28-2021, [7] (PA December 29, 2021)
  20. ^ Deto, Ryan (December 30, 2021). "Pa. Supreme Court says warrantless searches not justified by cannabis smell alone". Pittsburgh City Paper.

External links edit

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