Pennsylvania Supreme Court
|Current partisan makeup
|% Justices of Color
|David N. Wecht
|Kevin M. Doherty
Why Pennsylvania Matters
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears cases affecting every aspect of your life throughout the year. The justices that sit on this court will determine your access to education, protections in the workplace, LGBTQ rights and equality, your voice at the ballot box, and the air you breathe and water you drink. With this power, the court can either ensure that our laws work for every single person or subvert the rule of law in favor of the wealthy and powerful.
One of the court’s highest profile decisions was delivered in 2018. Republicans in the house legislature drew congressional maps that disrupted the previous partisan balance across state districts to favor them in 13 out of 18 total districts. Groups then challenged the maps and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The court found the maps to be partisan gerrymandered, overturned the maps, and ordered new ones. Currently, there is a 9-9 even split across districts. Moreover, the court has been essential in ensuring access to the ballot and that every Pennsylvanian is fairly represented in our democracy.
The court has been essential for strengthening worker protections and rights. In 2015, the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance mandating that any employee that works at least 35 hours a week is entitled to sick leave. However, business owners and employers rushed to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The case eventually ended up before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In a win for workers in Pennsylvania, the court upheld the law. This was a huge step forward for the rights and dignity of all workers. Additionally, the court has also stepped in to defend workers’ eligibility for and right to overtime pay. While it seems that even the most basic of rights in the workplace should be firmly established, their legal standing can still end up before the court. Thus, it’s critical that the justices understand the necessity for such protections.
The court has also upheld important protections for valuable resources across the commonwealth. The court strengthened funding streams from oil and gas companies to natural conservation efforts. This was considered a significant win towards protection of public lands and resources. In another decision, the court has also increased transparency and accountability following toxic spills. The court found that companies were required to disclose to both public and private owners of spills that affected their drinking water. At the same time, the court has not always ruled in favor of the public on environmental issues. In another case, the court found that oil and gas companies may not be held liable when their fracking operations drain chemicals and resources from adjacent lands. This shield corporations while they can trespass on private landowners’ property and resources.
These are just a sampling of examples demonstrating the outsized impact the court can have on your most fundamental rights. Learn more about your court and the justices on it below!
Pennsylvania selects its justices by partisan election. This means that candidates are listed on the ballot with a political party designation next to their name. However, for subsequent terms, supreme court justices are retained on the bench via retention elections. Retention elections occur when a judge’s term expires. In order to stay on the bench, the judge is brought to the public with a “yes” or “no” vote to keep the judge in their current position. A judge up for retention election must meet a certain threshold of “yes” votes to remain in office.
If an unexpected vacancy occurs, the governor will nominate an individual to serve on the bench. This nominee must be confirmed by the Senate. In order to remain on the bench, the interim appointed justice must stand for election in the next municipal election at least 10 months after the appointment.
Current Justices on the Court
Debra Todd (D), Chief Justice
Chief Justice Debra Todd (D) was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007. She was retained on the bench during the 2017 election. Chief Justice Todd’s term will end in 2027. In order to remain on the bench, Todd must face another retention election in November 2027. Todd was officially sworn in as Chief Justice of the court in January 2023 due to former Chief Justice Max Baer’s passing in late 2022.
- Upon graduation from law school, Todd worked as a litigation attorney for the US Steel Corporation. In 1987, Todd moved to private practice and eventually started her own firm. She remained in private practice until 1999. That year, Todd was first elected to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She served as a judge on the superior court until her election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007.
Christine Donohue (D)
Justice Donohue was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. Her current term will expire in January 2026. In order to remain on the bench, Justice Donohue will stand for retention in November 2025.
- Donohue worked in private practice for almost her entire career prior to joining the bench. Upon graduation from law school, Donohue first practiced personal injury law but later transitioned to complex commercial litigation. She remained in private practice until 2007. That year, Donohue ran for superior court and won. Then in 2015, she joined the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Kevin Dougherty (D)
Justice Dougherty was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. His current term will expire in January 2026. To remain on the bench, Dougherty must stand for retention in November of 2025.
- Dougherty was first a law clerk at a firm in New York upon graduation from law school. In 1990, Dougherty returned to Pennsylvania and served as an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia. Then in 1995, Dougherty transitioned into private practice. He was a partner at a firm while practicing criminal and civil law with a focus on family law. Dougherty was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia in 2001 to fill an unexpected vacancy on the court. He was then elected to a full 10-year term and won an additional retention term. In 2015, Dougherty ran for Supreme Court and won.
David Wecht (D)
Justice Wecht was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. His current term will expire in January 2026. In order to remain on the bench, Wecht must stand for retention election in November 2025.
- Wecht began his legal career as a clerk for Judge MacKinnon on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for District of Columbia. After his clerkship, Wecht joined a private practice firm in DC where he maintained a diverse practice portfolio. After four years in DC, Wecht returned to Pittsburgh. He practiced at a firm as a litigator but soon opened a litigation law firm with his parents. Wecht represented a number of individual plaintiffs. In 2003, Wecht was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County. He served in that position until 2011. That year, Wecht was elected to be a judge on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. In 2015, Wecht ran for Pennsylvania Supreme Court and won.
Sallie Mundy (R)
Justice Mundy was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2017. Her current term will end in January 2028. In order to remain on the bench, Mundy must stand for retention election in 2027.
- Upon graduation from law school, Mundy clerked for Judge Robert Kemp in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. When her clerkship was completed, Mundy joined the firm McQuaide Blasko, State College focused on personal injury, insurance, and malpractice disputes. After she left that firm, she continued in private practice and maintained a diverse portfolio ranging from criminal defense to plaintiff personal injury. In 2009, Mundy was elected to the Superior Court. She served in that capacity until she was appointed a member of the Supreme Court in 2016.
Kevin Brobson (R)
Justice Brobson was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2021. His current term will end in January 2032. In order to remain on the bench, he must stand for retention election in November 2031.
- Brobson started his career as a clerk to US District Court Judge James McGirr Kelly for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. When he completed his clerkship, Brobson joined a private practice firm. At the firm, he primarily focused on state administrative law and and procedure. He stayed at the same firm until his election to the Commonwealth Court in November 2009. He was retained for a second term in 2019. Then in 2021, Brobson ran and won a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Daniel McCaffery (D), incoming justice
Justice McCaffery was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2023 and will assume his position in January 2024. His term will end in January 2034. In order to remain on the bench, he must stand for retention election in November 2033.
- Upon graduation from law school, McCaffery began his legal career as Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia County until 1997 when he switched to private practice at Friedman, Schuman P.C. McCaffery remained in private practice until his election as Judge to the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania in 2013, he assumed office in 2014. He then ran for election to the Superior Court in 2019 and won. He remained on the Superior Court until his election to the supreme court.
- Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth (2021)- Environment
In a boost for environmental rights, the Court ruled that money raised from oil and gas leases in state forests must be used for conservation efforts. Rather than going into the state’s general fund, millions of dollars will now be used to conserve public natural resources.
- In re: Appeal of Steelton-Highspire School District (2021)- Education
The Court ruled that a proposal for a majority-white school to secede from a majority-minority school district and merge with a majority-white school district could not proceed without further consideration of the financial and academic impacts of withdrawal on the remaining schools in the district.
- Lowman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (2020)- Workers
The Court ruled that an out-of-work Uber driver was eligible to receive unemployment benefits. This decision has significant precedential value and secured more protections for workers in the gig economy.
- Commonwealth v. Batts (2017)- Criminal Justice
The Court held that there is a presumption against life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. This decision recognized that children are distinct from adults and their age should be considered in situations where they face severe punishment in the criminal justice system.
- Kelly v. Commonwealth (2020)- Democracy & Voting Rights
The Court unanimously threw out a lower court order that prevented the state from certifying dozens of contests that were part of the 2020 election. The case had been brought by U.S. Representative Mike Kelly and other Republican plaintiffs who had sought to either throw out 2.5 million mail-in ballots or wipe out the election results and direct the Republican-controlled legislature to pick Pennsylvania’s presidential electors.
- Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association v. Pittsburgh (2019)- Workers
The Court ruled that employees working 35 hours within Pittsburgh are eligible for paid sick time. This decision enhanced public health by ensuring covered employees are guaranteed the opportunity to receive time off that may be used for their own healthcare or the care of a family member.
- Pennsylvania Democratic Party v. Boockvar (2020)- Democracy & Voting Rights
Democracy & Voting Rights In an important case before the 2020 presidential election, the Court ruled that ballots mailed before or on Election Day, but received up to three days after Election Day, must be counted. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and immense strain on the postal system, the normal deadline would have likely resulted in the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. The court extended the deadline so that all eligible votes could be counted during the election.
- Chevalier v. General Nutrition Centers, Inc. (2020)- Workers
The Court ruled that under Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act, eligible workers must be paid at 1.5 times their regular rate for working overtime. This decision expanded protections for workers by ensuring they are paid sufficiently for overtime hours.
- Harmon v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (2020)- Workers
The Court ruled that an individual sentenced to a part-time prison sentence is still eligible for unemployment benefits. The blanket denial of unemployment benefits to anyone serving any kind of criminal sentence would undermine efforts to keep people with criminal records, who already face stigmas and barriers to employment, connected to the workforce.
- In re Amazon.com Fulfillment Center FLSA Litigation (2021)- Workers
In a case involving Amazon, the Court held that under Pennsylvania law employers must pay workers for their time spent going through mandatory security screenings. This decision ensures that workers are compensated for all time they are required to be at the workplace.
- League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth (2018)- Democracy & Voting Rights
The Court struck down Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that unfairly favored Republicans. Before the change, Republicans held a 13-5 advantage in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Since the new map went into effect in 2018, there has been a 9-9 partisan balance, greatly more consistent with the preferences of the state’s voters. This was a groundbreaking decision because it ensured Pennsylvania voters could cast their ballots under a fair and constitutional map.
- Washington v. Department of Public Welfare (2018)- Disability Rights
The Court, in a unanimous decision, took an important step to protect Pennsylvanians living in poverty due to serious disability, domestic violence, or other factors preventing them from working. The Court struck down a law (Act 80 of 2012) which eliminated cash benefits and made it more difficult for poor families with young children to qualify for aid.
- Robinson Township v. Commonwealth (2016)- Environment
The Court struck down a provision of Pennsylvania law that required the state to notify only public, but not private, well owners of toxic spills that could affect drinking water. It also struck down a medical “gag rule” provision that would have prevented doctors from discussing chemicals involved in fracking with their patients.
- Briggs v. Southwestern Energy (2020)- Environment
The Court ruled that oil and gas companies cannot be held liable for underground trespass when their fracking operations drain chemicals from adjacent land. This ruling shields oil and gas companies from accountability and limits protections for private landowners.
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court
Are you registered to vote in Pennsylvania? To check your voter status, click here. Not registered? You can register to vote online here. You can find more information on other ways to register to vote here.
The last day to register for Pennsylvania’s November Election is October 23, 2023.
Do you have a plan to vote? In Pennsylvania, there are multiple ways to vote!
Vote in-person at your polling place on election day. Find your polling place here. Polls will be open from 7am to 8pm. Make sure you have everything you need to vote (NOTE: if you are voting for the first time at your polling place, you must bring a photo ID).
Can’t make it to the polls or won’t be in Pennsylvania on election day? There are other ways to vote!
Mail-in ballot: if you’d rather vote by mail, then you can request a mail-in ballot. Any qualified, registered PA voter can request a mail-in ballot! You can request yours here.
Absentee ballot: if you will be out of your municipality on election day or are unable to make it to the polls on election day, you may request an absentee ballot. You can request your absentee ballot here.
To return your ballot, you can mail your ballot in or return it in-person. To find more information on returning your ballot in-person, click here.
The last day to request an absentee or mail-in ballot online is October 31, 2023, by 5pm. Your ballot must be returned no later than November 7, 2023, at 8pm.
Make sure your WHOLE BALLOT is completed. Your voice matters in every election!