The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) announced Wednesday it plans to make a “six-figure investment” in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court race, calling it an election that will have “long-term consequences, not just for the court, but for the state Legislature as well.”
Republican candidate Carolyn Carluccio, a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, is running against Democrat Daniel McCaffery, a judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The two are competing for the seat left vacant on the state Supreme Court when Justice Max Baer died last year.
In the not-so-distant past, judicial races typically flew mostly under the radar, and drew low voter turnout and unremarkable spending. But in 2015, the year Democrats won a majority on the state high court, the amount spent topped $15.8 million, breaking the national record for any state Supreme Court election at the time (that record was obliterated earlier this year by the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, where spending surpassed $45 million).
And this year’s contest has attracted attention from well outside the commonwealth’s borders. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court decided some highly consequential cases last year alone, picking a new state congressional redistricting map, and upholding the state’s no-excuse mail-in voting law. The court is expected to deal with cases involving voting rights and reproductive rights in the near future.
And Democrats want to prepare for the long term, said DLCC spokesperson Abhi Rahman, something he acknowledged the party has struggled to do. “In the mid-2010s we lost everything,” because Republicans had built a strong bench of candidates, he said. Recognizing that most legislation happens at the state level, “we did a 180 after 2016.”
Democrats currently have a 4-2 majority on the state’s highest court, and justices serve 10-year terms. Three of the four Democratic justices — Christine Donohue, David N. Wecht, and Kevin M. Dougherty — will be up for reelection when their terms end in 2026.
The investment in the state Supreme Court race will involve a paid media campaign in support of McCaffery, Rahman said.
The DLCC, which works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, has helped the party retain the Pennsylvania House five times this year, Rahman added, most recently when Lindsay Powell, one of its “spotlight candidates,” won the seat in District 21 left vacant by Sara Innamorato’s resignation. Powell was sworn in on Monday.
Rahman thinks that streak bodes well for November.
“One race never tells a full story but the trend does, and we want to keep that trend going,” he said. “Our hunch is that voters will align with Democratic candidates protecting their fundamental freedoms.”
The DLCC is not the only group spending significant resources to back McCaffery. Planned Parenthood Votes, the political arm of reproductive rights organization Planned Parenthood, has poured money into a state ad campaign — the largest investment it’s ever made in a state Supreme Court race. The ads criticized Carluccio’s stance on reproductive rights, claiming she wiped references to her previous position against abortion from her website.
Carluccio received the Republican Party endorsement in the primary, and is endorsed by the PA Pro-Life Federation and Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, both of which oppose abortion.
Her campaign spokesperson told the Capital-Star that Carluccio was not an activist judge, and the website had undergone a redesign, but that Carluccio would not attempt to legislate from the bench.
“The policies that have the biggest impact on our lives are increasingly being decided in the states,” said interim DLCC President Heather Williams. “Alongside state legislatures, we believe state supreme courts from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin are critically important in determining the future of our democracy. As we implement our long-term strategy to build Democratic power in the states, we’re investing accordingly.”
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