New Pa. Supreme Court Justice Dougherty vows fairness, independence

 Newly sworn state Justice Kevin Dougherty speaks during an investiture ceremony attended by six of the seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at the National Constitution Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Newly sworn state Justice Kevin Dougherty speaks during an investiture ceremony attended by six of the seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at the National Constitution Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

When Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty was sworn in Tuesday evening as a new member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, one of the seven high court justices was notably absent.

That was Justice Michael Eakin who was suspended without pay last month while he awaits trial on misconduct charges in the “porngate” email scandal. Former Justice Seamus McCaffery, who resigned in 2014 after his role in the scandal was revealed, did attend the ceremony at the National Constitution Center. 

“Porngate” has raised questions not only about the content of the emails and whether they reflect a bias against women and other groups, but also whether they suggest an inappropriate relationship among the prosecutors, lawyers and judges who traded them.

After his investiture, the newly minted Justice Dougherty vowed to be a fair and independent jurist.

“Justice is colorblind, but must be color conscious in the sense of its administrative arm in making sure that, when we dispense justice, it’s applied fairly, that bias has no place in our world,” he said.

Dougherty was one of three Democrats elected to the court in November with the backing of his brother, Philadelphia power broker and electrical workers’ union local 98 business manager John Dougherty. 

The ceremony lasted more than two hours and was attended by a large crowd of political and business elites. The new high court justice was described by friends and colleagues as an Irish Catholic “son of South Philly” and “a champion of children” during his years in the Philadelphia Family Court. 

Mayor Jim Kenney, who was sworn in by Dougherty on Monday and grew up “100 yards” from the Dougherty brothers in South Philadelphia, called him a “good person” and thanked his brother, John, for his support in their election campaigns.   

For his part, John Dougherty spoke about the hard work of campaigning across Pennsylvania. He paraphrased Pope Francis who said priests should be “shepherds with the smell of the sheep” and be among the people they serve. 

“He’s ready, he’s prepared. He smells like the people of Pennsylvania,” he said of his brother, Kevin, who made a point of noting he would no longer be attending political fundraisers.

“And as a justice, I will hold vigilant the separation of powers,” Dougherty said. “I will remember that we are an independent judiciary, that while we may have friends in the executive branch and the legislative branch, we are the first branch of government.”

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