Dan McCaffery’s triumph in the Pa. Supreme Court race extends Democrats’ majority
Abortion rights and election integrity took center stage in the expensive and contentious showdown between the candidates.
Democrat Dan McCaffery was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday, extending the Democrats’ majority on the state’s highest court and reinforcing the fact that abortion rights and the integrity of elections are top of mind for Pennsylvania voters.
The Associated Press called the race for McCaffery, a Philadelphia native and Superior Court judge since 2019, around 10:53 p.m.
Abortion and election issues took center stage in the expensive and contentious showdown between the candidates. Outside groups and the candidates’ campaigns spent more than $20 million to win the open seat, which was the top statewide race on the ballot this fall.
“I’m humbled by the responsibility Pennsylvanians have entrusted in me and I intend to serve our commonwealth and every community across Pennsylvania by defending our Constitution and ensuring our society is more fair, inclusive, and accepting,” McCaffery said late Tuesday night.
Carluccio said she congratulated McCaffery in a phone call around 11:15 p.m. and wished him “the wisdom and strength to uphold the great responsibility that comes with serving” on the state Supreme Court.
“The people have spoken, and while the outcome was not what we hoped for, the democratic process has once again prevailed,” Carluccio added. “I want to express my deepest gratitude to my supporters for your time and your belief in our vision for a fair and impartial judiciary.”
Abortion rights and Democratic groups poured millions into the race, in hopes of expanding their majority on the court to protect access to the procedure, a strategy that worked in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race earlier this year.
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While abortion rights have changed in many states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the procedure remains legal through 24 weeks of pregnancy in Pennsylvania. Democrats argued that maintaining a liberal majority on the court is key to protecting that law.
Conservative groups, meanwhile, emphasized that these attacks proved that McCaffery would use the court to implement his personal political philosophy over the state’s laws. Carluccio said on the campaign trail that she hasn’t shared her personal opinion about abortion, and said she would follow Pennsylvania law on the issue.
Both parties also poured resources into this year’s Supreme Court race in anticipation of the court deciding high-profile election cases in 2024.
Pennsylvania is again expected to be a crucial battleground state in the 2024 presidential election. In 2020, the state Supreme Court was at the center of attention amid battles over mail ballots and former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. Voting rights advocates expect similar challenges in next year’s election, especially if there is a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden.
Now both parties will analyze their performance in the race to determine what issues they can use to win statewide next year.
The seven-seat court has been operating with a vacancy for the last year, after Chief Justice Max Baer died of a heart attack in October 2022. Since then, the 4-2 Democratic majority has deadlocked on a number of decisions, including mail-ballot rulings — setting up the winner of the vacant seat to become a deciding vote in important cases.
While Democrats’ majority on the state’s high court wasn’t in question, they aimed to expand their majority before three Democratic justices are up for retention votes in 2025. Republicans have refocused their sights on increasing their number of justices in recent years to chip away at the Democratic majority.
Both parties spent millions to paint the other candidate as unfit for the job. Democrats, with the help of major investments from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, told voters they “can’t trust Carluccio” for not disclosing her personal beliefs on abortion. Republicans, almost entirely funded by the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, claimed McCaffery would use his position on the bench to push his political agenda. They also connected McCaffery to his brother, former Justice Seamus McCaffery, who resigned from the state Supreme Court in 2014 amid the state’s Porngate scandal.
However, the top statewide race on Tuesday’s ballot — and the most expensive — wasn’t a top motivator for voters around the Philadelphia suburbs.
Many voters around Phoenixville and Collegeville didn’t come out to the polls with the state Supreme Court in mind. In Phoenixville, it was a ballot referendum to eliminate a school district tax. In Collegeville, it was the school board race for Perkiomen Valley School District, which recently voted to bar transgender students from using bathrooms that match their gender identities.
Several voters said they voted straight-ticket for their party, but couldn’t recall who they voted for in the Supreme Court race. This tracks with a recent Franklin and Marshall College poll that found more than 7 in 10 registered voters didn’t know enough about McCaffery or Carluccio to form an opinion about them.
However, voters said they had certainly seen the ads for the Supreme Court race.
Hugh Braun, 53, a constable in Collegeville, said he saw attack ads against Carluccio and McCaffery nonstop.
“It was crazy money,” said Braun, a Republican.
Braun voted for Carluccio, he said, because the Montgomery County president judge said she would follow the law as written, which aligns with his own political philosophy.
“That should be a simple thing,” Braun added.
Some Democratic voters said they made their choice for Supreme Court based on protecting their rights.
“I’m concerned about women’s choices and women’s health care, and that’s driving my [vote],” said Heather Bernardin, 55, of Collegeville.
Earlier in the day, John Burke, an 85-year-old retiree in a Navy cap and American flag pin, said outside his polling place in the Far Northeast the Supreme Court election was at the top of his mind Tuesday.
“It’s the most important one,” said Burke, who lives in the Northeast with his wife Stephanie, a retired police officer. The Burkes voted at the FOP Lodge near their home in the Far Northeast.
Burke, who said he was inundated by ads and read everything he could get his hands on, supported Carluccio.
“I want a Republican Supreme Court,” he said. “I’m not a liberal, I’m a conservative. I would support any candidate who was a conservative.”
Staff writer Kristen Graham contributed to this article.