Between the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 election, the past year has been a case study on the importance of state Supreme Courts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was busy with a flurry of Republican challenges to the state’s voting law, issuing decisions on issues from naked ballots to mail-in deadlines and ballot drop boxes.
A different composition on the court could have meant a very different path for the pandemic, and, considering Pennsylvania’s pivotal role in presidential politics, potentially for the nation.
In November, voters will choose who will fill the seat of retiring Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican who reached retirement age after 23 years on the bench — including as chief justice for the past five years.
In the primary, only one Democrat is running: Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin.
The stakes for Republicans are high. Saylor is one of two Republicans on the bench, and if his seat goes to a Democrat, it will further entrench a Democratic majority.
Three Republicans are competing to be on the ticket in November: Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, and Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick.
Being a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice, is extremely hard. It requires people to check their own policy preferences at the door and instead be guided by a consistent judicial philosophy — avoiding not only bias but the appearance of bias.
The best choice in the Republican Supreme Court primary is Judge Kevin Brobson.
With Judge Brobson, voters know what they are going to get: a conservative jurist who will rule with limited government and a limited judiciary in mind. In his endorsement interview, he discussed the importance of clearly written opinions so that all Pennsylvanians can understand the law and what it means. This a value that we share. Brobson was elected by his Commonwealth Court peers as president judge last year, a meaningful vote of confidence.
Brobson seems more prepared to be a Supreme Court justice than either of his two opponents. Judge Patrick, a Philadelphia Democrat who became a Republican in 2009, has no appellate experience. But what really gave this board reservation was her decision to participate in an interview for a QAnon-promoting podcast.
Patrick also promoted on social media and attended a rally billed as “STOP THE SHUTDOWN.” Considering the number of legal challenges related to coronavirus policy, promoting and attending such an event is unbecoming for a prospective Supreme Court justice. Judge McCullough also attended this rally.
In her interview with the board, McCullough emphasized how rewarding she found her time as a family court judge. Her passion for diversion programs is laudable. She didn’t, however, make the case for why the Supreme Court bench is the place for her.
These elections aren’t what bring voters to the polls. But the Supreme Court is extremely important. Both the primary and the general election in November deserve your attention — it is the vote for the branch of government that can overturn the work of the other two.