PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It seems as soon as one election is over, another begins.
With so much focus on the judiciary and election lawsuits, it’s no surprise a lot of candidates are already announcing their candidacies for judge.
This coming year, we elect county, municipal, school officials and judges — one to the state Supreme Court, two to the Commonwealth Court, one to the Superior Court and many to local county courts.
These judges make critical decisions that affect our lives.
“These are very important positions,” Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.
“The state Supreme Court in 2018 rewrote our congressional map by outlawing the gerrymander and in 2017 put tremendous restrictions on drilling on state lands,” Ledewitz added.
Just ask candidates like Donald Trump about state court rulings on elections this year.
“Most of the election cases were decided in state courts, not federal courts,” says Ledewitz.
Ledewitz fears that statewide courts, where candidates run for office by party, may become too partisan, at least in the short-term.
“For many years, our courts were not partisan,” he said.
But that changed in 2015, says Ledewitz, when Democrats won three open seats on the state Supreme Court, giving the Court a 5 to 2 Democratic edge.
This coming year, Chief Justice Tom Saylor — a Republican — is retiring. Electing judges is challenging for voters who often never know the candidates.
“People have a tendency to pay more attention to what’s going on on the national level when there are elections. But state appellate seats are just as important,” says attorney Kimberly Moses.
Moses chairs the Pennsylvania Bar Associations’s Judicial Evaluation Commission that investigates and rates statewide judicial candidates.
“Our ratings include a paragraph that summarizes the candidate’s background, their experience, their judicial temperament,” says Moses.
While politics plays a role in all elections, Elizabeth Hughes — president of the Allegheny County Bar Association — urges voters to think beyond politics.
“Very important to have an independent judiciary and folks that aren’t pressured by political motivation so that they can make the best possible decisions for the public,” says Hughes.