Judicial Candidates on the Ballot in One State, Retirement Age for Judges in Another

November 6, 2013

Pennsylvania is one of at least four states that holds judicial elections in off-years. This November, two candidates competed for a seat on the superior court (an intermediate appellate court) and four appellate judges, including two supreme court justices, stood for retention. Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justice Max Baer were retained with 69 and 71 percent of "yes" votes, respectively. Concerned about an anti-incumbent backlash spurred by the recent government shutdown, Baer raised $420,000 and Castille raised at least $179,000 for their retention campaigns. There was little organized opposition to the justices, though a Philadelphia-area Tea Party group urged Pennsylvanians to vote "no" in reaction to a 2012 supreme court decision that blocked the state's voter ID law. The last justice to lose a retention bid in Pennsylvania was Russell Nigro in 2005, based on his support for a legislative pay raise.

Both judges seeking retention to the superior court were also successful but did not report any political contributions. The contested race was relatively low-cost as well. Last week, candidates reported raising $81,000 and $48,000, with contributions coming largely from attorneys, pro-business groups, and unions. One candidate was reprimanded by the state bar for airing a misleading ad about his opponent.

In New York, voters decisively rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have raised the mandatory retirement age for judges on the state's highest court and major trials courts from 70 to 80. The court of appeals' chief judge, who will be forced to step down in 2015, advocated for the proposal's passage, pointing out that it would provide the supreme court (the state's trial court) with 20 to 28 additional judges to deal with substantial caseloads. Proponents also noted that life expectancy has increased since the mandatory retirement age was set at 70 following the Civil War. Governor Cuomo, whose authority to shape the court would have been limited by the measure, objected to the fact that it did not include all trial court judges. With 14-year terms—one of the longest judicial terms in the nation—few judges on the court of appeals serve a full term before reaching mandatory retirement.