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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

PA High Court Race: An Expensive Victory for Dems

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The race in to sit at one of the most besmirched state supreme courts in the country was also the most expensive in U.S. history.

Seven candidates vying to fill three vacancies on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court spent $15.8 million, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reported on Election Day. The amount breaks the previous record of $15.19 million in the 2004 Illinois race.

Partly accounting for the surfeit of money is the sizable departure from the court, after a wave of scandals in the past three years.

In 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin was convicted of using court staff to assist her during her election campaign.

Justice Seamus McCaffrey stepped down last year after the investigation into the child-abusing football coach Jerry Sandusky revealed his participation with various other government officials of exchanging hundreds of pornographic emails.

Before accepting responsibility for the scandal that came to be known as "Porngate," McCaffrey had characterized the controversy as part of a vendetta by his bitter rival on the bench, Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who opened the court's third vacancy by reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2014.

Democrats Kevin Dougherty, David Wecht and Christine Donohue won the race with about 19 percent of the vote each, giving the seven-judge court five Democrats and two Republicans.

Dougherty, whose brother John Dougherty heads the Philadelphia chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, vastly outspent all candidates, at about $3.8 million.

Support of mayor-elect Jim Kenney played a sizeable role in the judge's victory.

Wecht was the second-highest spender at $2.8 million, and Donohue the third-highest at $1.9 million.

The outcome aligns with the Brennan Center's new report about the increasing politicization of state court races.

Of 23 contested state appellate seats this cycle, 21 were won by the candidate whose campaign raised the most money, the Brennan Center found late last month.

The incoming roster of Pennsylvania's high court is expected to hear landmark cases about redistricting and the fate of the financially depleted Philadelphia School District.

The new blood will not, however, make the court scandal-free. In October, the Daily News reported on unsavory jokes that Justice Michael Eakin emailed to state staff, including one about a Muslim mother who says her children "blow up so fast, don't they?"

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