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High court opening tops Pennsylvania’s 2021 judicial races
Court Issues | 2020/12/21 11:49
Statewide judicial races will be among Pennsylvania’s most closely watched election contests in the coming year, with lawyers and judges around the state already lining up supporters and trying to figure out if they can raise enough money to win.

The marquee race will be for Supreme Court, where the Democrats’ 5-2 majority has flexed its muscle with a series of rulings this year about mail-in balloting and coronavirus restrictions.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2021, and keeping his seat in GOP hands is critical to his party’s hopes to eventually reclaim a majority on the high court.

While a lot can change, for now at least three Superior Court judges are running ? Democrats Maria McLaughlin and Carolyn Nichols, and Republican Vic Stabile. Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson, a Republican, is also considering it. Pay for appeals court judges starts at $202,000.

The two state party organizations will decide in the coming months whether to endorse a candidate in the May primary and if so, who that will be.

Endorsements would likely narrow the field. They come with financial and logistical backing that are particularly important for judicial candidates, who are generally not career politicians and face special restrictions on their role in fundraising.

Stabile contacted members of the Republican State Committee last week to say he wants the endorsement.

“I would run, of course, if I got the endorsement,” Stabile said. And if not? “In all likelihood, I would respect that, wish the other person good luck and step aside.”

Nichols plans a formal announcement next month.

“I am in it to run,” she said Monday. “I’m certainly out there attending virtual meetings and putting myself out there. I’m in an early stage.”

On Superior Court, an intermediate appeals court that handles most criminal and civil appeals from county courthouses, two judges are seeking retention in unopposed, up-or-down contests.

Superior Court terms are 10 years, but if Republican Judge John T. Bender’s retention campaign is successful he will serve briefly before reaching age 75. Party and court sources said Judge Mary Jane Bowes, a Republican, will also stand for retention. Nearly every statewide justice or judge who has ever run for retention has won.

The lone Superior Court vacancy is now held by Republican Judge Susan P. Gantman, who is retiring after 17 years. Gantman said her plans include writing children’s books on the topic of civics.

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