Pennsylvanians Can’t Afford to Ignore Judicial Elections in 2023

It’s hard to overstate how important state courts are to maintaining rights and freedoms.
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After a long campaign season which saw millions of Pennsylvanians make their voices heard, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s safe to tune out elections for a while. After all, the next big elections aren’t until 2024, right? Wrong. We vote every six months in the Commonwealth. Next year’s municipal, local, and judicial elections will feature several key races to fill seats on courts across the Commonwealth, including an opening on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

As much as we all want and deserve a break, you can rest assured that the same people who worked so hard to attack our courts in the past won’t be taking off this next election. We can’t afford to sit this one out.

READ: Increase The Voting Age To 21? PA GOP Wants To Eradicate Youth Vote

It’s hard to overstate how important state courts are to maintaining rights and freedoms. Think of the three branches of our state government as a three-legged stool – take out one leg and everything comes tumbling down. That’s why it’s so critical that our courts enforce the checks and balances written into our state Constitution. Without them, extremist politicians would be able to strip away our rights and freedoms with nothing to stop them. 

Time and again, our state courts have stepped up to defend our right to vote and our right to have our votes counted. Not to mention that courts can have the final say on key issues like education funding, worker protections, access to healthcare, neighborhood safety, and the quality of our air and water.

Given their importance, it should come as no surprise that courts have become the focus of those looking to politicize or take control of the judiciary. For years now, extremist politicians and wealthy special interest groups have tried almost every tactic under the sun to take power from our courts or block them from protecting our rights and freedoms. It hasn’t worked. But for our courts to remain fair and impartial, it’s up to us to ensure that only the most qualified of judges end up on our benches. 

READ: Pennsylvania’s School Funding Scheme Creates A Permanent Underclass. That May Be The Point.

Next year, in addition to lower court vacancies, Pennsylvanians will decide who fills several appellate court judicial vacancies: two on our Superior Court, one on our Commonwealth Court, and one on our state Supreme Court. Each of these contests are significant.

In the past year, Pennsylvanians have seen the results of long-running efforts to politicize our federal courts, but especially with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court infamously overturned federal protections for abortion – a constitutional right relied upon by three generations of Pennsylvanians – and has since given signals that other major parts of settled law could be reviewed and come under threat of being overturned as well. If Pennsylvanians really want their rights and freedoms protected, we’ll have to do it ourselves, through our own state courts. 

We showed this year that the real power in our state lies with everyday voters like you and me. When we stand up together to make our voices heard we make it impossible for those in power and those seeking power to ignore us. We’ll have to do it again next year. 

The entire country will be watching the few states with judicial elections in 2023. With such a bright spotlight focused squarely on Pennsylvania, it’s on us to make clear that we won’t settle for anything less than highly qualified and representative judges. The future of our state Supreme Court matters far too much for Pennsylvanians to ignore next year’s elections.

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Kadida Kenner

Kadida Kenner is the CEO of the New Pennsylvania Project, a statewide voting rights organization with a primary focus on voter registration, civic engagement and mobilization, and co-chair of Why Courts Matter — Pennsylvania, a campaign educating Pennsylvanians about the importance of the independence of both the federal and state courts. She writes from Chester County.

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