Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio defeated Patricia McCullough in the Republican primary for one seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on May 16, 2023. Carluccio will face Daniel D. McCaffery (D) in the general election on Nov. 7.
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 general election winner will succeed Justice Max Baer (D), who passed away on Sept. 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 began serving as a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in 2010. Before then, she served as an assistant U.S. Attorney and as Montgomery County’s Chief Public Defender. Carluccio 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 was elected to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in 2009. McCullough previously ran for state supreme court in 2021 and lost to Kevin Brobson 33%-52% in the Republican primary. McCullough highlighted her experience and recent opinions she 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 Brobson 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 the 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.