With Pennsylvania’s judicial elections fast-approaching, advocacy organizations are stressing the impact and importance of the state’s Supreme Court race. In less than a month, Pennsylvania voters will choose between Republican Carolyn Carluccio and Democrat Dan McCaffery as their next state Supreme Court justice. While judicial elections don’t get nearly get as much attention or voter turnout as presidential ones, voting rights and abortion rights groups say the “stakes are high” in this race.
According to All Voting is Local Pennsylvania State Director Nick Pressley, it is crucial for voters to “pay attention to this Supreme Court race” to help “preserve our democracy.”
Calling the Pennsylvania Supreme Court an “instrumental part of the state’s checks and balances,” Pressley told the Bucks County Beacon that the high court is “fundamental” in protecting the rights of Pennsylvanians, especially when it comes to voting rights.
“We saw that in 2020 when the court repeatedly denied attempts by fake electors and continued to push back against the big lie,” he said. “We saw that again in 2022 when the courts made a ruling around how to count mail-in ballots that didn’t have a proper date on it.”
Pressley also lists the Supreme Court’s ruling on Act 77 – Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail-in voting law – as another example of the court’s impact. Despite multiple attempts from partisan lawmakers to overturn Act 77, including a lower court ruling that declared the law a violation of the state constitution, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the law, allowing voters to continue to vote by mail for any reason.
“We need [the court] to ensure that a legislature that’s as divided as ours doesn’t run out of control,” he said.
Kadida Kenner, the CEO of the New Pennsylvania Project and co-chair of Why Courts Matter-PA, said during a press call Thursday that the cases the state Supreme Court has heard in the last few years regarding mail-in ballots and redistricting have kept democracy intact and ensured that “every Pennsylvanian really has a voice in our elections.”
“It just has to be expressed the importance that we have at this moment, to make sure that we are voting for judges that are going to protect our rights and our freedoms,” Kenner said. “There’s so much at stake.”
Pressley urges voters to look up the candidates’ stances on the issues that matter to them and to be aware of judges’ judicial philosophies before filling out their ballots next month. “Try to look at this from a viewpoint of who would help uphold and defend democracy the best, but really just get informed about these candidates,” he said.
The two candidates, McCaffrey and Carluccio, both have major backers and supporters, but their stances on voting rights and abortion rights, among other issues, appear to vary greatly.
McCaffrey, a Pennsylvania Superior Court judge, said in his Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) questionnaire that he’s running for the state Supreme Court because he believes “democratic institutions including the judiciary are under duress” and hopes to “restore faith in the judicial branch” by approaching “every case in a non-partisan matter.”
In recent interviews, he pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights as examples of the type of judicial activism that he thinks has undermined confidence in the courts and ultimately inspired him to run. McCaffrey has also been vocal on the campaign trail about his stance on abortion access and has even said that elected officials should not be “looking for ways to disqualify votes.”
Carluccio, a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, wrote in her PBA questionnaire that she wants a “fair and impartial” justice system and believes the “American system of justice is exceptional as we are all equal under the law.” She has also touted her experience as a federal prosecutor as a major reason why she feels she’s qualified for the job.
However, Carluccio has been heavily criticized for allegedly scrubbing her anti-abortion views from her website following the primary election in May and for claiming that Act 77 has been “very bad for our Commonwealth.” She has also been endorsed by anti-abortion groups like the Pro-Life Federation. As a result, abortion rights groups like Reproductive Freedom For All and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates have endorsed her opponent, McCaffrey.
“Abortion rights are always on the ballot,” Signe Espinoza, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, told the Bucks County Beacon. “The stakes were pretty clear in the midterms and they are now that the control of our bodies and our lives continue to be under attack.”
One major abortion rights case before the court is Allegheny Reproductive Health Center v. PA Department of Human Services, which challenges the Pennsylvania Medicaid Program’s ban on abortion coverage. “This is a perfect example and a real life example about the importance of the courts when it comes to access to safe legal abortion,” Espinoza said. While abortion is legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in Pennsylvania, she says it’s “not accessible to many people” because their insurance won’t cover it.
“The threat is real and the stakes are high. We need to make sure that we are paying attention to the judges and their values,” she continued, adding that McCaffrey is the “only candidate in the race that is going to protect access to safe legal abortion.”
Ally Boguhn, the communications director of Reproductive Freedom for All, expressed similar sentiments in a statement to the Bucks County Beacon, outlining her organization’s support for the candidate and noting that the state Supreme Court race is a “top priority” in the fight for abortion rights.
“Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support the right to abortion — that’s why we’re doing everything we can to elect Judge McCaffery, who will hand down fair-minded decisions that recognize reproductive freedom for the fundamental right it is,” Boguhn said. “We will not allow the GOP and extremist judges to veto the progress we make in the states.”