WASHINGTON, D.C. — In one of the most expensive judicial elections Pennsylvania has seen, Judge Dan McCaffery (D) won the race for the open seat on the state Supreme Court, giving Democrats a 5-2 majority.
McCaffery defeated Republican Judge Carolyn Carluccio by more than 183,000 votes, a solid six-point margin in the battleground state.
While the state’s highest court now enjoys a strong Democratic majority, three of the four Democratic justices — Christine Donohue, David N. Wecht and Kevin M. Dougherty — will be up for reelection when their 10-year terms end in 2026.
Only 24 states elect justices to their respective state Supreme Courts. Of those, eight states — Pennsylvania included — hold partisan state Supreme Court judicial elections in which the candidates run with a party affiliation. In the Keystone State, Democrats have held the majority on the state’s highest court since 2015.
Voting rights groups, like the New Pennsylvania Project, are relieved as McCaffery’s presence on Pennsylvania’s highest court means that there is a bolstered pro-democracy bench heading into some critical election years for the battleground state. In a statement following the results, New Pennsylvania Project’s Kadida Kenner reminded that while a cause for celebration, Election Day is just one day, and, “the work of our organization is nowhere near finished.”
The impact of McCaffery’s victory, which was also viewed as a referendum on abortion access in the state, will be multifaceted and wide-reaching. Republicans will have a harder time regaining control of the court in 2026, which is critical for fair maps in the next redistricting cycle.
In 2018, the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional map, ruling it was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. In the party-line opinion, the court ruled that the districts “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state constitution and blocked the map from remaining in effect for the 2018 midterm elections.
Author of the opinion, Justice Debra Todd (D) also strongly denounced gerrymandering and its consequences: “[i]t is axiomatic that a diluted vote is not an equal vote, as all voters do not have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation. This is the antithesis of a healthy representative democracy.”
But redistricting is only one of the potential ramifications of this race. Voting rights litigation in Pennsylvania is likely to ramp up in 2024 as it did during the last major election cycle. In 2022, the state saw the second most democracy-related lawsuits in the country, according to our case database.
Just ahead of Election Day in November 2022, with an even split of justices following Democratic Justice Max Baer’s death, the court issued a deadlocked, 3-3 ruling that blocked counties from counting undated mail-in ballots (ballots that were timely cast and valid but missing a date on their outer return envelopes) and wrongly dated mail-in ballots (ballots that were timely cast and valid but have an incorrect date, such as the voter’s birthday, on their outer return envelopes).
In the state’s 2023 primary in May, 30% of the rejected mail-in ballots were thrown out because they had an incorrect date or no date.
In 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stood against the onslaught of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and its allies. Of former President Donald Trump’s 65 lawsuits seeking to overturn the presidential election and undermine democracy, 14 lawsuits were filed in Pennsylvania. Five of these post-election cases made it to the state Supreme Court, where the Democratic majority rebuffed each argument to dismantle the democratic process.
After yesterday’s election, this buffer is now reinforced.
Across the Keystone State, voters showed up in support of democracy. Democrats swept all four judicial races on its Commonwealth Court and its Superior Court. Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s second-largest county and home to Pittsburgh, fended off a Republican majority on its board of elections, which would have empowered fake Trump elector, Sam DeMarco, who already sits on the board. And in Bucks County, a populous county just north of Philadelphia, Democrats retained control of the county board of commissioners and a contentious school board election saw the far-right Moms for Liberty ousted from power.