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New Justices for Pa. High Court

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Hon. Judy Olson, Pa. Superior Ct. (AP) 

Monday, 02 Nov 2015 11:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive

With less than 24 hours to go before Pennsylvania voters go to the polls Tuesday, all political eyes in the Keystone State are on the hard-fought races for the state Supreme Court.

In large part, the races for three vacancies on the high court are due to circumstances that have drawn national press attention to the Keystone State but which Pennsylvanians who talked to me consider publicity they could easily do without.

Justices Jane Orie Melvin and Seamus McCaffery were both forced to step down because of bad behavior: Orie was convicted of using her judicial staff for campaign purposes (and is now under house arrest and wearing an electronic monitor bracelet) and McCaffery for sending more than 200 emails containing pornography.

A third jurist, Chief Justice Ron Castille, left the bench because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Castile and Orie are Republicans and McCaffery is a Democrat.

Coupled with the equally-unwanted attention given the sensational corruption charges now surrounding Pennsylvania’s Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane (whose own staff and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf have called on her to resign), the so-called “judge wars” to determine control of the State Supreme Court has become what former Lancaster County GOP Chairman Ann Womble dubbed “the most consequential and far-reaching of all the contests on Tuesday.”

Now seven candidates — three Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent — are competing for the three open slots on the Supreme Court.

Particular attention has been paid to the candidacy of one of the Republican hopefuls, Superior Court Judge Judy Olson.

A well-heeled liberal group known as Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform and headed by former Democratic Lt. Gov. Marc Singel has singled out Olson for being “out of touch with Pennsylvanians.”

“By this they mean that I am what they call ‘anti-choice’ [pro-life on the abortion issue] and because I have been supported by what they call ‘radical groups’ — meaning the [pro-family] Eagle Forum,” Olson told me during an interview on Friday.

Olson has also become a particular target of the left, she explained, because she once represented an asbestos company against workers’ claims.

In recent area, this area has become a “cause” of the extreme environmental movement and trial lawyers.

The left spending millions to influence elections to Supreme Court is nothing new.

According to a 2010 analysis by the American Justice Partnership in 2010, hedge fund billionaire George Soros, had spent no less than $45 million up to that point to influence races for state supreme courts.

Highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Olson was the top Republican vote-getter in the primary this year and spent the least amount of money.

In her words, “winning is a lot more about hard work than spending money.”

Under state law, Olson and other Supreme Court contenders cannot discuss their positions on specific issues that they may have to rule and may only campaign on their resumes.

Prior to her election to the Superior Court in ’09, Western Pennsylvanian Olson was a judge of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is one of the oldest in the United States,” noted Olson, “and any ultimate court in any state will have a final say on matters that could impact all Americans.”

Characterizing her won philosophy, the woman known as “Pennsylvania’s Judge Judy” told me she was “a strict constructionist” when it comes to interpreting both the U.S. and the Pennsylvania Constitutions.

“I disagree with Barack Obama,” she said, “The Constitutions of the U.S. are not ‘living documents’ that change with the whim of society. They are what they were meant to be by the Founding Fathers, who were brilliant. I don’t believe in judges legislating from the bench. If I wanted to legislate, I would run for the legislature.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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The so-called “judge wars” to determine control of the State Supreme Court has become what former Lancaster County GOP Chairman Ann Womble dubbed “the most consequential and far-reaching of all the contests on Tuesday.”
Money, U.S. State Facts
Monday, 02 Nov 2015 11:10 AM
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