Democrat Dan McCaffery wins open seat on Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Pennsylvania spending
Daniel McCaffery, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, speaks at a women’s organizing event and canvass launch hosted by the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, Sept. 30, 2023, in Norristown, Pa.
AP Photo/Ryan Collerd, File

By MARC LEVY Associated Press

Democrat Dan McCaffery won an open seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court in Tuesday’s general election, preserving a strong Democratic majority on a panel that has produced several critical election-related rulings in the presidential battleground state.

The seven-member bench, which will be made up five Democrats and two Republicans, is also at the center of cases on guns and abortion rights — which had a prominent role in the campaign.

McCaffery, a judge who serves on a statewide appellate court, beat Carolyn Carluccio, a Montgomery County judge. Justices serve 10-year terms before they must run for retention to stay on the court.

McCaffery, a former Philadelphia judge and prosecutor, had positioned himself as a defender of abortion rights and other rights that he said Democrats had fought for, but were under threat from the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

McCaffery’s talk of fighting for threatened rights — and a state-record-smashing amount of money spent on the race — transformed what would have normally been a sleepy judicial campaign into a high-profile affair with a crush of TV ads and fliers stuffing mailboxes.

“It’s something that really caught fire on the campaign trail, and I think a lot it of had to do with the more recent decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court and the scandals at the U.S. Supreme Court,” McCaffery told The Associated Press. “People were really taking notice.”

Carluccio conceded the race in a statement and congratulated McCaffery.

McCaffery’s victory is the latest for abortion rights proponents in a string of races around the country, including a pivotal state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin where abortion was the top issue.

Like in Wisconsin, Democrats in Pennsylvania’s high court race focused on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and end nearly a half-century of federal abortion protections — making it a key avenue to attack Carluccio.

Carluccio tried to avoid that debate, saying the issue didn’t belong in the race since state law makes abortion legal through 24 weeks. She sought to avoid publicly expressing an opinion on the issue, though she was endorsed by anti-abortion groups.

Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority on the court, with the open seat created by the death last year of Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat.

The court is currently examining a challenge to a state law that restricts the use of public funds to help women get abortions as well as Philadelphia’s challenge to a law barring it and other municipalities from restricting the sale and possession of guns.

In recent years the court has issued pivotal decisions on major election-related cases, including throwing out GOP-drawn congressional districts as unconstitutionally gerrymandered and rejecting a Republican effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state after Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden.