In November, Pennsylvania voters will fill three seats on the state Supreme Court, the most at one time in 200 years.
At the Free Library auditorium in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, five of the twelve candidates were “put on trial” so to speak, taking place in an 18-question debate-style community forum.
Four Democratic candidates attended: Judge David Wecht, Judge John Foradora, Judge Dwayne Woodruff and Judge Anne Lazarus. The lone Republican was Judge Cheryl Lynn Allen. There are five more Republicans and two more Democrats in the race.
Questions for the candidates ranged from gerrymandering to campaign donations, to whether Supreme Court judges should be appointed instead of elected.
With a 10-year term on the line though, none of the five candidates took many extreme stances.
While the four Democrats present all support abortion rights, Republican Superior Court Judge Allen was up-front about her stance on the issue
“I’m pro-life, and I make no apologies about that,” said Allen. “But as a Supreme Court justice I will interpret the law as I am mandated to do.”
Moderators questioned a lack of diversity in the court system and Judge Dwayne Woodruff, himself African-American, siezed on the issue.
“On May 19, you can pull that lever for Dwayne Woodruff and put some diversity in the Supreme Court,” Woodruff said to applause.
Less than a minute later, Allen tried to top that.
“There has never been an African-American woman elected to our Supreme Court, and so I am hoping to be the first,” she said.
Each candidate had at least one strong moment that garnered a crowd reaction. Judge David Wecht warned, “the Koch brothers are coming,” as he voiced concern over campaign contributions.
On whether trial judges have too much say in the sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Anne Lazarus said she approaches each decision with the mindset, “do you want me to be tough on crime, or fair on crime?”
All of the present candidates said the process of indicting police officers needed to change, supported equal rights for members of the LGBT community, and all agreed it was a good idea to continue electing judges instead of appointing them.
Organizer Gloria Gilman said with such a milestone moment in the court judge election, it was important for the public to know the issues at stake. Though admitting the auditorium was hot, and the event maybe a little too long, she called the night a success despite only half the candidates showing up.
“Maybe in November we can actually get the best candidates in there, but it’s not likely to happen when nobody knows anything or has access to information,” she said.