Gavel Grab

Pennsylvania High Court Race Now Most Costly in U.S. History

Big spending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election has reached more than $15.8 million and toppled prior records for documented spending on a state judicial election, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School said on Tuesday.

Three new Pennsylvania justices will be chosen by voters today from seven candidates. The prior record for documented spending in a state judicial was $15.19 million in Illinois, in a 2004 race for a single seat.

“We could see this coming like a freight train in Pennsylvania,” said Liz Seaton, Interim JAS Executive Director. “Everyone should be stunned that a national spending record for state judicial elections has fallen. The problem is growing, and Pennsylvanians deserve a better system for selecting their high court judges.”

“With three seats up for grabs, we were concerned that spending could reach historic levels,” said Matt Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Still, perhaps more troubling is that this unacceptable level of politicization is becoming the norm for judicial elections, rather than an exception. Something has to change.”

“This record for high spending is a national distinction Pennsylvanians never wanted to claim,” said Lynn A. Marks, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. “Expensive attack ads against judges bought and sold by special interest groups are no way to pick judges. It’s the right time for Pennsylvania to get our statewide judges out of the campaign and fundraising business and move to a merit selection system, as recently reported out of the House Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.”

Candidates have raised at least $12.8 million during the primary and general election. Total estimated spending on TV ads through Nov. 1 was $9.96 million. Two outside groups have weighed in with an ad war in the contest (see Gavel Grab).

The latest media coverage included Associated Press, “Contributions to high court candidates reach nearly $11.5M”; and, “As some races seem over already, others are up for grabs.” The Brennan Center and PMC are JAS partner organizations.

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