Pa. election 2023: A complete guide to the candidates for Commonwealth and Superior Courts

During the Nov. 7 election, six candidates will run for Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate courts, which wield significant power over legal disputes and criminal cases.

Headshots of Timika Lane, Jill Beck, Harry Smail, Megan Martin, Matt Wolf, Maria Battista

Clockwise from top left: Timika Lane, Jill Beck, Harry Smail, Megan Martin, Matt Wolf, Maria Battista. (Campaign photos)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

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On Nov. 7, Pennsylvanians will select a new judge for Commonwealth Court and two for Superior Court — and all of these new judges will immediately wield the power to referee legal disputes over state law and decide major criminal cases.

The commonwealth’s two intermediate appellate courts can affirm or reverse decisions made in lower courts. Their rulings can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, Pennsylvania’s court of last resort.

The person who wins the open seat on Commonwealth Court could help shape Pennsylvania’s laws on everything from elections to firearms, while the two candidates who win seats on Superior Court could decide the outcomes of high-profile criminal cases and set precedents that impact everyone within the criminal justice system. The Superior Court race features two Democrats and two Republicans, and the two candidates who get the highest vote counts will win seats.

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Judges on both courts also are often top candidates to fill openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

All appellate judges serve 10-year terms with no term limits; however they must retire at age 75. If they reach that age mid-term, they step down and an election to replace them is held in the next odd year. The governor may appoint a judge to serve in the interim, but the replacement must be approved by two-thirds of the state Senate.

This election cycle also includes retention votes for two Superior Court judges, alongside the contests to fill the two open seats.

Commonwealth Court

Superior Court

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Voters will also be asked to reapprove 10-year terms for two sitting Superior Court judges in nonpartisan retention elections.

Judge Vic Stabile, elected as a Republican in 2013, is seeking a second term. President Judge Jack Panella, elected as a Democrat in 2003, is seeking a third.

Rather than face a head-to-head election, state appellate judges earn a new term in a yes-or-no vote, in which a majority yes vote means they serve another 10-year term unless they turn 75 before then. These races normally attract little attention, and subsequent terms are almost always approved.

The only exception since Pennsylvania adopted its current constitution is state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro, who was denied a second term in 2005 after lawmakers voted to increase legislative and judicial salaries in a late-night vote. Nigro had nothing to do with the pay hike, but was nonetheless defeated amid widespread public anger.

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