Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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In a win for environmentalists and municipalities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a number of provisions to the state’s oil and gas law. 

AP file photo

On Election Day, Pennsylvania voters will decide whether to raise the retirement age for judges to 75, but the way the ballot question is posed continues to be tied up in the courts. 

Here's how the question is expected to appear on the ballot in November:

"Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices, judges and justices of the peace be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years?"

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania's highest court has declined to intervene in the criminal case against the state's top prosecutor. Jury selection is set to begin outside Philadelphia on Monday.

The Supreme Court on Friday turned down Attorney General Kathleen Kane's request that it take up her claim that the grand jury that investigated her was unlawful and unconstitutional.

Lawmakers Push Changes For Judicial Discipline

Mar 23, 2016
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  State senators on Tuesday urged their colleagues to advance their plans to change how judicial conduct cases are handled in Pennsylvania.

A proposed amendment to the state constitution would overhaul how the commonwealth’s court system metes out discipline for its justices and judges. The issue is particularly relevant this week, after the second resignation of a state Supreme Court justice over his exchange of offensive emails with prosecutors and others. 

The entire affair has led lawmakers to scrutinize the ways Pennsylvania’s court system judges its own.

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The environmental rights amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution was passed by the state’s voters in 1971, by a margin of four to one.

New PA Supreme Court Justices Poised For Swearing In

Dec 30, 2015
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Pennsylvania's three newly elected state Supreme Court justices will take their oaths of office next week in their home cities at opposite ends of the state.

Court Says UPMC Must Keep Rates Cheaper In Medicare Plans

Nov 30, 2015

A state Supreme Court decision means seniors and others in Pennsylvania enrolled in an insurer's Medicare Advantage plans won't have to pay comparatively higher rates in the coming years for services through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The justices ruled Monday that about 180,000 people in Highmark's Medicare Advantage plans will pay "in-network" fees at least until June 2019, when a consent decree between the two health providers is set to expire.

ICTY Photos / Flickr

A funny thing happened on the way to the referendum.

A year and a half ago, it seemed that getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot would be the hard part. This week, the state Senate cast the final vote in the years-long process to put the question to voters: should the age limit for state judges be changed from 70 to 75 years?

What Does The Changing PA Supreme Court Mean For Education Funding, Charter Schools?

Nov 9, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

  The results of last week's Pennsylvania Supreme Court election could have wide-ranging implications for a number of high-profile cases related to education issues in Pennsylvania.

Three Democrats swept the open seats on the state's highest court – shifting the balance of power 5-to-2 in their favor when they assume the bench in January.

Joe Gratz / flickr

After the most expensive judicial election in US history, with nearly $16 million spent, the dust has finally settled on the Pennsylvanian Supreme Court election and the democrats have swept the bench. David Wecht, Christine Donohue and Kevin Dougherty, all Democrats, have won their elections and will be inducted as Supreme Court Justices. Wecht paid a visit to Essential Pittsburgh and spoke with Paul Guggenheimer about his victory.

Democrats swept all three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Tuesday's election, locking in a majority on the state's highest court for at least a decade that could help shape the legislative redistricting that will follow the 2020 census.

The winners of the seven-way race were Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty and Superior Court judges David Wecht and Christine Donohue of Allegheny County.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  This year’s race for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just broken a national record.

Total campaign spending has reached $15.8 million, according to advocacy groups. That figure breaks the record held by Illinois for its two-way Supreme Court race in 2004.

For its new title, Pennsylvania can thank an unprecedented number of open Supreme Court seats as well as several groups that care about how the high court handles cases involving them.

PA High Court Defers Email Probe To Ethics Panel

Nov 2, 2015
Daniel Shanken / AP File Photo

  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is deferring action on whether one of its justices violated conduct rules by sending and receiving explicit emails.

The court issued a statement Monday that left judgment to the Judicial Conduct Board based on the recommendation of a law firm it hired to review the email scandal surrounding Justice Michael Eakin.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

  Every time Pennsylvania voters are asked to make their picks in a race for the Supreme Court, they have to indulge in a polite fiction – one that party leaders and candidates both seem to dislike.

The candidates for justice have a party next to their names, but they must disavow party politics if they make it to the bench. Voters just have to pretend there’s no contradiction.

At a recent forum, three candidates for Supreme Court described how they navigate that process.

The Politics Of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Race

Oct 22, 2015
Beth Cortez-Neavel / flickr

The Pennsylvania judicial election is less than two weeks away, and tensions are high. With new attack ads airing regularly, many wonder what effect large monetary campaign donations are having on the race. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Post-Gazette reporter Chris Potter, who has been covering the race.

Raunchy e-mails flagged by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane have prompted firings, reprimands, court-requested reviews and now, a planned internal audit by the Office of Attorney General. 

Kane’s spokesman Chuck Ardo said the agency plans to do a post-mortem on its efforts to let the state Supreme Court and the Judicial Conduct Board review inappropriate e-mails exchanged between judges and OAG employees.

The examination, Ardo said, is intended to settle a dispute about the e-mails: “who looked at them and when.”

The state Supreme Court is conducting its second review in as many years of potentially inappropriate e-mails exchanged by one of its sitting justices, Michael Eakin.

In a written statement released Monday, the state’s high court said the follow-up investigation is necessary because Attorney General Kathleen Kane didn’t fork over all pertinent messages during a review last year.

A spokesman for state Attorney General Kathleen Kane says he doesn’t know when she will follow through on her latest promise to release all uncovered pornographic e-mails exchanged with current and former employees of the Office of Attorney General.

Aapo Haapanen / Flickr

  A legal battle over Gov. Tom Wolf’s seven-month death penalty moratorium lands in the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court’s ruling could disrupt Wolf’s plans to continue issuing reprieves to death row inmates, at least until a state task force finishes studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania. 

Gov. Tom Wolf is vowing to appeal a court ruling reversing his dismissal of the director of the state’s Office of Open Records, the latest counter-punch in a months-long legal dispute over the independence of the agency and the powers of the governor.

The Commonwealth Court ruling reinstates Erik Arneson to his post as executive director of the agency. It also awards him back-pay.

The field of candidates for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now set.

Republicans on Tuesday chose Superior Court Judge Judy Olson, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey and Adams County Judge Mike George as their candidates. Democrats nominated Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty, and Superior Court judges David Wecht and Christine Donohue.

Philadelphia Judge Alice Beck Dubow was dubbed the Democratic nominee for a seat on the state Superior Court. She defeated Allegheny County Judge Robert Colville.

The Quiet, Crowded Primary For State Supreme Court

May 13, 2015

The primary election for the state Supreme Court is next week, giving voters a chance to pick their party’s nominees to vie for three open seats on the seven-justice bench.

The number of vacancies is unprecedented in the court’s modern history, and the results of the general election this fall will determine the political balance of the state’s high court for the near future.

Sound like a recipe for a closely-watched election? Not quite.

Duquesne University

The withdrawal of one state Supreme Court nominee might have sunken both picks made by the governor’s office in consultation with the state Senate.  The move potentially will leave two vacancies on the high court for the rest of the year.

Centre County President Judge Thomas Kistler said Monday morning he is dropping out of the confirmation process.

 “[S]everal circumstances have developed here, at home, in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system, and require my full attention,” said Kistler in a written statement. “I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty.”

His withdrawal comes days after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported criticism of a 2013 e-mail he sent, which features a photo of a black man and woman, apparently during a prison visit, below text that reads: “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.” Kistler is white.

The race for the three open seats on the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to be intense this year, and there is no doubt it is starting earlier than normal.

All six Democratic Supreme Court candidates will be in Pittsburgh at 2 p.m. Sunday for a forum at Chatham University. In total there are 18 announced candidates.

But little is known and will be known about them. 

The Corbett administration has to come up with a plan to reopen state health centers after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled it can’t close any of its 60 public health hubs statewide.

“We are still reviewing the ruling in full to determine the implications to the plan moving forward and will be providing additional communication to the public and to our staff as soon as that review is complete,” said Aimee Tysarczyk, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

Castille: Review of Inappropriate Emails Is Ongoing

Nov 17, 2014

The head of the state’s high court says a review hasn’t wrapped up on any inappropriate emails that may have been exchanged by members of the judiciary.

Chief Justice Ron Castille said Monday that the Judicial Conduct Board is still looking for answers in regard to a batch of 4,000 sexually explicit emails identified by the Office of Attorney General as involving some jurists.

PA Senate Waits For Signal On High Court Vacancy

Oct 30, 2014

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has one vacancy now, with another one to materialize at the end of the year. The state Senate, which confirms interim judicial nominees, is waiting for a signal from Governor Corbett on whether he’ll try to fill the first right away, or wait to fill both at once.

The governor’s office has given no indication he wants to nominate someone to fill an empty slot on the state’s high court anytime soon. The seat was vacated by Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, whose retirement this week ended an investigation into a slew of allegations against him.

Judicial Rancor Prompts Calls For Reform

Oct 27, 2014

Another ethical imbroglio, another call for reform.

The state Supreme Court's suspension of one of its justices has prompted reform advocates to question why Pennsylvania uses partisan elections to choose its appellate court judges.

State Supreme Court Suspends McCaffery

Oct 23, 2014
PA National Guard / Flickr

The state Supreme Court has suspended one of its own, Justice Seamus McCaffery, with pay. The suspension is a response to McCaffery's admitted exchange of sexually explicit emails with people in the state attorney general's office, among other things. 90.5 WESA's capitol correspondent Mary Wilson provides an update from Harrisburg.

Supreme Court Suspends Justice McCaffery, With Pay

Oct 21, 2014

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery has been benched over his recent admission of sending sexually explicit e-mails with people in the state attorney general's office, along with other imbroglios over the past few years. The suspension is effective immediately, though McCaffery will still receive pay.