Want to define the high stakes in picking two new justices for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Nov. 6? Just consider the controversy over building two casinos in Philadelphia.
Facing months of delay, both the Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos have asked the Supreme Court to simply sweep aside any city-permit obstacles and order that the slot machine parlors can be built.
And guess what? The seven-member court has authority to do just that.
Regardless of the city's traffic concerns, zoning issues, or any other civic disputes over siting two casinos on the Delaware River waterfront, the court holds the ace here as it does on most other criminal and civil matters.
Even after the 2005 state pay raise was repealed by state lawmakers, the court ordered that state judges' raises be reinstated.
At least the pay-raise decision drew public attention to the court and its importance. Now voters get a voice through this election.
They're fortunate in having several good candidates who offer varied judicial experience and legal careers firmly rooted in a desire to enhance scholarship and be better judges. These candidates also offer voters geographic diversity, one consideration in naming members to this court.
Each candidate has been recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association following its review.
Not just scholarly, but also offering perspective from real-life experience and being hard-working - those are the criteria for this choice. This court needs to improve its openness, make room on its docket for pivotal cases, and to oversee - yes, police - the state's judiciary to maintain the public's confidence.
Voters have three solid choices in the three Superior Court judges: Seamus P. McCaffery, Maureen Lally-Green and Debra M. Todd. But they can vote for only two. A fourth candidate, Michael L. Krancer, trails in terms of judicial experience, and that puts him at a distinct disadvantage.
McCaffery, 57, is a former Philadelphia police officer who has made a career of exceeding others' expectations of him.
Long before he made headlines as the city judge who set up a nuisance-court at Eagles' games, McCaffery displayed an extraordinary drive to achieve. From getting his law degree while a cop, to decades in the military reserves - he's a former Marine - to winning statewide election to Superior Court, McCaffery has an unusual resume that would distinguish and serve him well on the high court.
Todd, 50, was elected to the appellate bench in 1999 after a career as a corporate lawyer and an upbringing in a steelworker's family. She was singled out for special praise by the bar association for her integrity, fairness and scholarship. In her judicial outlook, Todd talks of being sensitive to privacy concerns and women's rights issues.
Lally-Green, 58, is equally highly rated by the bar and joined Todd as a top vote-getter in the primary. Her judicial philosophy is more conservative, as is that of Krancer, 49. The latter, a former administrative judge, talks of Antonin Scalia as a role model.
As a candidate from this region, Krancer argues for geographic balance. (Todd and Lally-Green are from the Pittsburgh area.) He's right. But McCaffery, with greater judicial experience, fits the bill.