Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Current partisan makeup % Justices of Color
5D-2R 0
Justice Party Next Election Mandatory Retirement
Dan McCaffery D 2033 2039
Christine Donohue D 2025 2037
David N. Wecht D 2025 2037
Kevin M. Doherty R 2025 2037
Debra Todd D 2027 2032
Sallie Mundy D 2027 2037
Kevin Brobson R 2031 2045
Why Pennsylvania Matters

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears cases affecting every aspect of your life during 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. Specifically, in the wake of the drastic rollback of our rights by the federal judiciary, state courts could not be more impactful and fundamental to protecting constitutional freedoms.

As more attention is drawn to the importance of state courts, more groups and interests invest in these races. This resulted in the 2023 Pennsylvania Supreme Court election to be the second most expensive judicial election in the country – after the unprecedented 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Moreover, the Supreme Court has a history of protecting voting rights, specifically its landmark 2018 decision overturning partisan gerrymandered maps, protecting all Pennsylvanians’ equal access to the ballot box. This decision launched a judicial gerrymandering campaign led by the conservative-controlled legislature which attempted to change the selection of justices from statewide elections to district-based elections. The court again, in 2022, intervened in redistricting and selected new congressional maps.

The Supreme Court has been essential as a bulwark protecting democracy and voting rights beyond redistricting. The Supreme Court was instrumental in protecting the Commonwealth’s mail-in-voting. That decision secured every Pennsylvanian voter’s access to the ballot and safely vote. The court also blocked challenges from the Trump campaign in 2020 to mail-in ballots and in doing so, enabled those votes to be counted. Many experts are anticipating more challenges to ballots and voting laws during this election cycle as well.

The court has been essential for strengthening worker protections and rights, such as its decision upholding Philadelphia’s sick leave policy. Additionally, the court has also stepped in to defend workers’ eligibility for and right to overtime pay. The court has also safeguarded workers’ ability to bring forth discrimination claims on behalf of other employees.

More cases challenging environmental protections and people’s right to a safe and healthy environment have been brought before state courts such as Montana, and Pennsylvania is no exception. The court has been essential in holding oil and gas companies accountable for their actions polluting and ensure those affected have access to justice. The court found that companies were required to disclose to both public and private owners of spills that affected their drinking water in addition to ensuring that people affected by spills are allowed to pursue challenges and be compensated for legal fees accrued in that process.

These are just a sample 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!

Selection Method

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, and 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 at 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.

Legal career

  • 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.

Legal career

  • 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.

Legal career

  • 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.

Legal career

  • 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.

Legal career

  • 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.

Legal career

  • 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)

Justice McCaffery was first elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2023 and was sworn in during 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.

  • Legal career
    • 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.

Noteworthy Cases

Criminal Justice

    • The court held that there is a presumption against life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. This decision determined that children are distinct from adults and their age should be considered in situations where they face severe punishment in the criminal justice system.

Democracy and Voting Rights

    • The court upheld universal mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, further securing voters’ access the ballot.
    • The court once again intervened in redistricting for congressional maps and selected new maps to be implemented for the Commonwealth’s elections.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

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.
    • A six-justice majority denied an effort to resume cash welfare assistance to poor and disabled Pennsylvanians. At issue was a program called General Assistance, which provided approximately 11,000 recipients with $200 per month before the state legislature ended the program.

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.

Environment

    • The court found an Environmental Hearing Board’s rule preventing reimbursement for harm done unless done in bad faith or improper purpose incompatible with Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Act. This decision makes it easier for individuals to be reimbursed for legal costs when harmed by polluters and bring successful lawsuits.
    • The court rejected challenges to the Department of Environmental Protection’s authority over oil and gas regulations for areas such as playgrounds, recreational areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.

LGBTQ+ Rights

    • The court ruled that Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is exempt from the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinances, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The case stemmed from complaints from the Philadelphia Commission of discrimination against employees and customers due to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Reproductive Rights

    • The court extended the Equal Rights Amendment to include state bas

Workers’ Rights

    • 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.
    • 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.
    • The court ruled that a worker could file a retaliation claim after she was wrongfully terminated for complaining about discrimination on behalf of someone else. This decision allows Pennsylvania employees who are not themselves the victims of discrimination to pursue retaliation claims.
    • 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 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.
    • The court ruled that employees working 35 hours within Pittsburgh are eligible for paid sick time. This decision ensured covered employees are guaranteed the opportunity to receive time off that may be used for their own healthcare or the care of a family
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court
  • Pennsylvania will hold its General Election on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
    • Check your voter registration status here. Not registered? You can register to vote online or in-person through your state DMV or by-mail. To register to vote online, access and submit your application here.
    • Pennsylvania requires a valid proof of identity (with or without photo) to vote when you are voting at your polling place for the first time. Learn more about valid identification in Pennsylvania here.
  • Ways to vote in Pennsylvania
    • Learn more about vote-by-mail here
    • Learn more about voting early in-person here
    • Learn more about voting in-person on Election Day here
  • Important dates for the General Election
    • October 21, 2024: last day to register before the General Election
    • October 29, 2024: last day to apply for a mail ballot
    • November 5, 2024: General Election
      • Polls are open from 7 AM to 8 PM
      • All mail ballots must be received by 8 PM