Pennsylvania Court Denies GOP Request To Delay Special Elections for State House

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued its opinion in this matter. The opinion vacates (meaning voids) part of the Jan. 13 order stating that Cutler’s claims were nonjusticiable. While the Jan. 13 order dismissed McClinton’s preliminary objections and application for disposition as moot, today’s opinion states that McClinton’s preliminary objections and emergency application for disposition “shall now be considered by the Court in due course.“ This means that litigation on the merits of the issues presented will continue. The three special elections scheduled for Feb. 7 will still be held as planned.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 13, a Pennsylvania court denied state Rep. Bryan Cutler’s (R) request to block the Allegheny County Board of Elections and Pennsylvania Department of State from holding special elections on Feb. 7 for three state House vacancies. This decision stems from a case challenging state Rep. Joanna McClinton’s (D) ability to act as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and issue writs of elections for three state House vacancies. Cutler alleged that because of three vacancies (due to a death and two representatives’ elections to other positions), Democrats did not have a majority in the Pennsylvania House when McClinton was acting as speaker and issued three writs of election. While the parties later agreed on the special election for one of the vacant seats, today’s court order denied Cutler’s request for relief as to the other districts. This allows special elections for the 34th and 35th Pennsylvania House Districts to be held on Feb. 7. 

This case took an interesting path to resolution. Notably, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party pointed out that after filing his complaint, Cutler “issued documents purporting to be writs of election, attempting to schedule elections in the 34th and 35th House Districts on May 16, 2023.” On Jan. 3, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans (including Cutler) came together to elect a different speaker of the state House, Mark Rozzi (I), who also ratified (meaning approved) the writs issued by McClinton scheduling special elections for the 34th and 35th House Districts on Feb. 7. Also on that day, the court signed an agreement reached by the parties stating that the special election for the 32nd House District will be held on Feb. 7. However, as of Jan. 3, the parties still disagreed as to whether the writs issued by McClinton for special elections for the 34th and 35th House Districts were valid. The court heard oral argument in the case on Jan. 11. Today, the court firmly rejected Cutler’s attempt to delay elections for which preparations are already underway. In the order, the judge wrote that Cutler “failed to prove, inter alia, that he has a clear right to the relief he seeks, that he will suffer immediate and irreparable harm without the preliminary injunction, and that the preliminary injunction will not adversely affect the public interest.” The judge also held that Cutler raised nonjusticiable political questions that the court cannot and will not rule on. Allegheny County will hold special elections for the 32nd, 34th and 35th state House districts on Feb. 7.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.