Pa. Superior Court 101: What it is, why it matters, and more

Pa.’s Superior Court is the appellate court with which an average person is likeliest to interact. Here’s what you need to know about electing two new judges on Nov. 7.

Illustration of judge meeting with various people

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is the statewide court with which an average person is likeliest to interact. (Daniel Fishel for Spotlight PA)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

At a quick glance: Superior Court is made up of 15 judges. Currently, there are 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans that serve on the court. There are 2 vacancies before voters in the November 2023 election. To qualify for a seat on the court, candidates must have state residency for at least one year and reside in the commonwealth throughout the duration of their term. They must be at least 21 years of age, but not older than 75. They also have to be a member of the Bar of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and licensed to practice law in the state.

Pa. Superior Court 101

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania is one of the commonwealth’s two intermediate appellate courts. Established in 1895, the court is made up of 15 judges and handles criminal, civil, and family cases that are appealed from lower courts such as the Courts of Common Pleas.

Decisions from Superior Court make news less often than those from the other two appellate courts, but it is the statewide court with which an average Pennsylvanian is likeliest to interact. Cases involving child custody, probation and parole, and business disputes can all end up in front of this court, and while those cases can be reversed by the state Supreme Court, this rarely happens in practice.

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The court also has a reputation as one of the busiest appellate benches in the nation. Its judges, who typically hear cases in three-person panels, are elected to 10-year terms in partisan contests and subsequently face nonpartisan retention votes, which usually succeed.

There is currently an even partisan split on Superior Court, with seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one vacancy. One sitting Republican, Judge John T. Bender, will leave the bench this year when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75, which means two seats will be filled in this fall’s election.

Frequently asked questions about the Pa. Superior Court:

Where can I find the PA Superior Court opinions and docket?

Court opinions and docket sheets are available online. To learn how to search dockets, check out this guide. To learn how to search dockets, check out this guide. The court system also maintains a webpage of cases it deems especially relevant to the public.

Judges posing together
Members of the Pennsylvania Superior Court as of October 2023. (Courtesy Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts)

Who are the PA Superior Court judges?

Superior Court also has three senior judges, President Judge Emeritus Correale F. StevensJudge James Gardner Colins, and Judge Dan Pellegrini. Senior judges are retired judges who have been approved by the state court administrator to continue serving, often in a pro bono capacity.

Where can I find a guide to PA Superior Court candidates?

You can find more information about the Superior Court candidates in Spotlight PA’s guide.

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