Pa. voters weigh abortion rights in open state Supreme Court seat

The court is currently examining a challenge to a state law that restricts the use of public funds to help people get abortions.

Montgomery County, Pa. Judge Carolyn Carluccio

Montgomery County, Pa. Judge Carolyn Carluccio, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, campaigns, Oct. 6, 2023, in Connellsville, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File)

Pennsylvania voters will make a decision with implications for the future of voting and abortion rights in a presidential battleground state when they choose the winner in Tuesday’s election for an open state Supreme Court seat.

The race between Democrat Dan McCaffery and Republican Carolyn Carluccio will not change the fact that Democrats hold a majority on the seven-seat bench. Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority with an open seat following the death last year of Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat.

Justices serve 10-year terms before they must run for retention to stay on the court.

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McCaffery is a former Philadelphia prosecutor and judge who sits on a statewide appellate court, the Superior Court. Carolyn Carluccio is a Montgomery County judge and a former federal prosecutor and public defender.

The state’s highest court has issued pivotal decisions on major election-related cases in recent years, 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.

It also upheld the constitutionality of the state’s expansive mail-in voting law and settled a variety of voting-related disputes before the 2020 election, spurring an outcry from Republicans.

Democrats injected the question of abortion rights into the campaign in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and end nearly a half-century of federal abortion protections.

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McCaffery 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.

Democrats also made abortion rights a key avenue to attack Carluccio.

Carluccio has stressed her experience and aimed to appeal to moderate voters by pointing out that Montgomery County’s judges — some Democrats, some Republicans — elected her to become the county’s president judge, an administrative position.

Carluccio said a debate over abortion rights 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.

More than $20 million has flowed into the race, much of it from billionaire Jeffrey Yass, who supported Carluccio, and labor unions and trial lawyers that backed McCaffery.

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.

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