Election 2023: A voter’s guide to the Superior and Commonwealth Court races - TAI News
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On Nov. 7, Pennsylvanians will select judges for two open seats on the Superior Court and one empty seat on the Commonwealth Court.

Here’s what voters need to know about the upcoming statewide judicial elections.

Superior Court 

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts. It has 15 judges and rules on criminal, civil and family cases appealed from lower courts.

The court currently has an even partisan split, with seven Democratic judges, seven Republican judges, and one vacancy. Judge John Bender, a Republican, will leave the court this year upon reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age of 75; his departure will leave two open seats on the court.

The two Democratic candidates for the open seats are Jill Beck, a Pittsburgh-based attorney who works for the Blank Rome law firm, and Timika Lane, a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since 2013.

The two Republican candidates are Maria Battista, who works as the vice president of state and federal contracting for the Judge Group, a Wayne, Pennsylvania-based consulting firm, and Harry Smail, who has been a Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2014.

Jill Beck

Beck has been endorsed by a wide range of abortion-rights organizations, labor unions, sheriffs, LGBTQ+ groups, Democratic lawmakers, and environmental organizations.

During a candidate forum hosted by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts in May, Beck said she hopes to emulate former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy was a conservative justice who sided with the Supreme Court’s more liberal justices on rulings that allowed same-sex couples to marry nationwide in 2015 and upheld the right to abortion in 1992.

Kennedy was a judge who “transcended partisan politics,” Beck said during the forum.

“He was a consensus-builder, a tiebreaker,” Beck said. “And that is something that I would love to be viewed as when I’m on the court myself.”

Beck further breaks down her resume and judicial philosophy in the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s questionnaire, which can be found here.

Timika Lane

Lane, a West Philadelphia native, has also been endorsed by a long list of labor organizations, environmental groups, and Democratic officials.

During the same May forum, Lane said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a role model to her. Appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden, Jackson is the first Black woman and the first former public defender to serve on the country’s highest court.

Lane said that her philosophy is simple: “To make sure that everyone knows in my courtroom they will receive a fair trial, that their voice will be heard regardless of their background, who they love, what religion they practice, how much money they have — we are all the same in the eyes of the law.”

Lane’s answers to the Pennsylvania Bar Association questionnaire can be found here.

Maria Battista

Battista, a Clarion County resident, worked as the assistant general counsel for the health and state departments under Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe.

In a survey from the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, Battista called the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia her judicial role model. A conservative member of the court, Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion in the decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States and concurred with the court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on elections.

“As an originalist, Justice Scalia was an important voice on our nation’s highest court,” Battista wrote.

Battista did not participate in the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s questionnaire process.

Harry Smail

Corbett appointed Smail to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas in Westmoreland County in 2014.

In a survey from the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, Smail wrote that Neil Gorsuch is the current U.S. Supreme Court justice who most closely reflects his judicial philosophy.

“He has a very reasoned review of facts,” Smail wrote. “He is not afraid to make a decision that will make for a more efficient adjudication of the law with a correct outcome.”

Gorsuch was appointed by Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 and was one of the five justices who overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

Smail wrote more about his candidacy in his bar association questionnaire.

Commonwealth Court

Democrat Matt Wolf and Republican Megan Martin are running for the one empty seat on the nine-seat Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

The court is one of two intermediate appellate courts in the state and has jurisdiction over civil actions brought against the commonwealth.

Matt Wolf

Wolf has served as a judge on the Philadelphia Municipal Court since 2017, where he has ruled in a variety of civil and criminal cases. Prior to that, Wolf worked as a trial attorney for 25 years and served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Army and as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. After joining the Army Reserve in 2003, he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was not always treated respectfully by judges during my 25 years of practice and one of my goals is to always treat the people in the courtroom, including the staff, just as I would want to be treated,” Wolf wrote in his bar association questionnaire.

Megan Martin

Martin served as secretary-parliamentarian of the state Senate between 2012 and 2022.

Prior to her job managing the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s upper chamber, Martin served in the administrations of former Republican Govs. Corbett and Tom Ridge and as a civilian attorney with the Department of the Navy.

In a survey from the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, Martin wrote: “I am a strict constructionist. I am a textualist and an originalist; I do not believe the constitution is a ‘living document.’”

Martin wrote in a survey from the Pennsylvania Family Institute that she agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Martin’s bar association questionnaire can be found here.

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