Patricia McCullough and Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio are running in the Republican primary for one seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on May 16, 2023. The winner will face the winner of the Democratic primary—Deborah Kunselman or Daniel McCaffery—in the general election on Nov. 7, 2023.
Pennsylvania conducts closed primaries, meaning only voters who register with a political party before the election date can participate in that party’s primary. The filing deadline for the primary was March 7, 2023.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It can hear appeals from statewide and local courts and assume jurisdiction over any case in the Pennsylvania court system. Spotlight PA’s Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso wrote, “The state Supreme Court takes on relatively few cases, but its rulings can have a major impact on politics and policy in Pennsylvania. In recent years, the court has decided cases on reproductive rights, mask mandates, and election disputes.”
Justices run in partisan elections for 10-year terms. After a judge’s first term, they must run in a retention election to serve subsequent terms. The winner of this election will succeed Justice Max Baer (D), who passed away on September 30, 2022. Baer’s term expired in 2023, and he was unable to run for re-election since Pennsylvania judges must retire at the end of the calendar year in which they reach 75 years of age.
As a result of the vacancy caused by Baer’s death, the court currently has a 4-2 Democratic majority, and partisan control cannot change as a result of the 2023 election. Partisan control of the court last changed due to the 2015 elections from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 5-2 Democratic majority.
Carluccio has been a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas since 2010. Before then, she was an assistant U.S. Attorney and Montgomery County’s Chief Public Defender. Carluccio has emphasized her judicial experience, particularly on the Montgomery Court of Common Pleas. In her responses to Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey, Carluccio said, “I will put my experience as a Judge, Federal Prosecutor, and Chief Public Defender to work for the people of our Commonwealth as a Justice of the State Supreme Court.”
McCullough is a judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, a position to which she was elected in 2009. McCullough previously ran for state supreme court in 2021 and lost to Kevin Brobson 33%-52% in the Republican primary. McCullough has highlighted her experience and recent opinions she has issued, stating, “In the last year alone I upheld the second amendment four times, ruled in favor of limiting the governor’s COVID mandates, joined in ruling Act 77 is unconstitutional, … upheld the constitutional right of legislature to draw the map, as well as other important decisions protecting election integrity and other rights in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania’s Republican Party endorsed Carluccio on Feb. 4, 2023.
The most recent state supreme court election in Pennsylvania was in 2021, when Kevin Brobson (R) defeated Maria McLaughlin (D) in the general election, 52% to 48%. Brobson’s election did not change the partisan composition of the court since he succeeded Justice Thomas Saylor (R), who did not run for another term because he turned 75 in 2021.
The next scheduled state supreme court elections in Pennsylvania will take place in 2025 when three Democratic justices first elected in 2015—Kevin M. Dougherty (D), David Wecht (D) and Christine Donohue (D)—will be up for re-election. Unless there are unexpected vacancies, 2025 is the first year that the partisan balance of the court can change from a Democratic to a Republican majority.