Your statewide voters guide for the 2021 general election in Pennsylvania

Voters must pick four candidates for the statewide bench, including to fill one seat on the state Supreme Court

By: and - October 10, 2021 6:30 am

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

Every year is an election year in Pennsylvania, and that includes 2021.

In this election, there aren’t any trickily-worded ballot questions or presidential electors at stake. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Besides school boards, county commissioners, and mayoral races, voters must fill four open seats on the statewide bench when they go to the polls Nov. 2

Before we get into that, if you have questions about how to vote, and if you can, check out our other guide here. You have until Oct. 18 to register to cast a ballot this year, and you can register online here.

The Courts

Pennsylvania has three statewide appellate courts — the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, and the Supreme Court.

Statewide, voters will be asked to pick four total judicial candidates:  One for state Supreme Court, two for Commonwealth Court, and one for Superior Court.

Moving backwards, the 15-judge Superior Court handles most criminal and civil appeals. A busy court, they are typically known as an “error correcting court,” because they look for mistakes in earlier legal decisions.

The nine-member Commonwealth Court handles lawsuits against the state government, local governments, and other public and regulatory agencies. Unlike Superior Court, lawsuits against those entities start in front of these judges. Its purview also means the court is often the first stop in election disputes.

However, whichever way either of the latter two courts rules, their decision could be overturned by the seven-member Supreme Court, which has a final say on all legal matters in the state. 

It’s always been influential, but it’s been in the news even more in recent years due to legal fights over redistricting, Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive powers, and the 2020 election, among other matters. 

The court also has administrative oversight over every other court in the state, such as when it ordered courtrooms to close in April 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justices elected as Democrats currently make up a majority of the high court bench, and the seat up for grabs this November was previously held by a Republican, so the outcome will not swing the court’s ideological balance of power.

All judges are elected for 10-year terms. When that term expires, they must run for retention on a yes-or-no vote, rather than against an opponent. All statewide judges also must retire by age 75.

And a final note: State ethics rules prevent judicial candidates from directly commenting on cases they might rule on, so it’s hard to nail down their stances during the campaigns. 

Instead, voters have to go off endorsements, in particular from the Pennsylvania Bar Association. You can read more about how the ratings work here.

Supreme Court

Kevin Brobson

Party: Republican

In brief: Lycoming County native. Studied law at Widener University, then worked at Pittsburgh- based law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney for 14 years. Ran and won a seat on Commonwealth Court in 2009, has served since. Elected President Judge of the court by his colleagues in 2021.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Highly Recommended

“His commitment to the citizens of Pennsylvania, combined with the high degree of respect and trust of his colleagues and his demonstrated excellence and integrity in his jurisprudence from the bench, leads the commission to highly recommend the candidate as a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.”

Endorsements: Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, National Rife Association, Firearm Owners Against Crime, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, Pittsburgh lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Maria McLaughlin

Party: Democrat

In brief: Philadelphia native. Studied law at Widener University, then worked in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office for 19 years. Philadelphia Common Pleas judge on family court from 2011 until 2017, when elected to state Superior Court. Has served there since.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Highly Recommended

“The candidate is described by other judges and lawyers as hard working, intelligent, patient, caring, approachable, an excellent listener and a superb mentor. Lawyers who appeared before the candidate recount her superior knowledge and practical application of the law.”

Endorsements: Multiple labor federations and unions, such as the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the state building trades association and the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, Clean Water Action

Commonwealth Court

Drew Crompton

Party: Republican

In brief: Montgomery County native, studied law at Widener University. Served as counsel to state Senate Republicans from 1994 until 2019, including becoming a top aide to former President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. Appointed to Commonwealth Court in 2020, has served since.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Recommended

“The candidate’s writings are thorough and well-structured. He presented himself to the commission as intelligent, well-spoken and sincere. Based on his current judicial experience and his previous role as senior counsel, combined with his work ethic and reputation among judicial colleagues, the commission recommends the candidate to serve on the Commonwealth Court.”

Endorsements: Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Firearm Owners Against Crime, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and law enforcement unions such as state Fraternal Order of Police and the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association

Lori Dumas

Party: Democrat

In brief: Philadelphia native. Studied law at North Carolina Central University. Worked in private practice before appointed a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge in 2002. Has served on the court since.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Recommended

“The candidate is well respected among her peers, being described as possessing intellectual curiosity and as being prepared for her judicial duties. Attorneys who appeared before the candidate describe her as fair with good judicial temperament.”

Endorsements: Working Families Party, Multiple labor federations and unions, such as the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Laborers International Union of North America, Pennsylvania National Organization for Women, former Gov. Ed Rendell.

David Spurgeon

Party: Democrat

In brief: Studied law at Duquesne University. Former deputy district attorney. Served in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas since 2016.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Highly recommended

“The candidate exhibits the legal ability sufficient to have earned the respect of lawyers and members of the bench and, during his interview with the commission, he displayed confidence, integrity and excellent judicial temperament.”

Endorsements: Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades, Iron Workers Local 3, Laborer’s District Council of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, International Association of Fire Fighters

Stacy Wallace

Party: Republican

In brief: McKean County native. Studied law at Duquesne University. Served as a judicial clerk at the McKean County Court of Common Pleas and later in the state Superior Court. Founded her own law practice. President of the McKean County Bar Association.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Not recommended

“The commission finds the candidate lacks the depth and breadth of experience and preparation necessary to take on the commanding role of judge on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.”

Wallace said of her rating that the process “is fundamentally flawed and does not accurately reflect her record of qualifications,” and pointed out her county bar association recommended her.

Endorsements: Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, Firearms Owners Against Crime, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Stacy Garrity.

Additionally, voters will be asked whether to retain Commonwealth Court judges Anne E. Covey and Renee Cohn Jubelirer.

Superior Court

Timika Lane

Party: Democrat

In brief: Worked in private practice with a focus in family law. Worked in the Philadelphia public defender’s office. Appointed to co-chair a county adult probation committee. Elected to Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2013.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Recommended

“The candidate’s writing is well-reasoned, clear and concise. She demonstrates a commitment to public service and has extensive community involvement.”

Endorsements: Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, the Working Families Party, House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania State Education Association

Megan Sullivan

Party: Republican

In brief: Former Chester County assistant district attorney and deputy Pennsylvania attorney general. General legal counsel to West Chester University. 

Pennsylvania Bar Association Rating: Recommended

“The candidate provided well-written samples of her work, and she is very well regarded by her peers being described as well-prepared, open and honest, and collegial.”

Endorsements: Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Stacy Garrity

Additionally, voters will be asked whether to retain Superior Court judges John T. Bender and Mary Jane Bowes.

For additional reading on these races and candidates:

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is the Capital-Star's House reporter. He previously covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter. You can reach him at 845-891-4306.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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