The Pennsylvania 2015 State Supreme Court Election in Comparative Perspective


  • Jenna Becker Kane



Judicial candidates and outside groups spent a record $15.8 million in a 2015 election that decided the partisan balance of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Adding to the record-­setting election was a barrage of televised attack advertising in which outside interests spent over $4 million to influence the outcome of the high court race. This article places the 2015 Pennsylvania Supreme Court election in comparative perspective to assess whether or not the campaign fundraising, campaign spending, and campaign advertising in this race was as “historic” as commonly claimed. Interestingly, when compared with other Pennsylvania high court races, the 2015 race was not a watershed election for candidate fundraising, especially when fundraising totals are averaged per candidate. Neither was the tone and tenor of campaign advertising in the 2015 Pennsylvania race outside the trend of contemporary judicial campaigns in other states, which have seen a marked increase in televised attack advertising by outside groups that often target candidates as soft on crime. Overall, the cost and tone of the 2015 Pennsylvania Supreme Court race appears to be a part of wider trends in contemporary judicial elections and very much in line with the cost of high court races in Pennsylvania over the last decade. The article concludes by surveying empirical evidence on the efficacy of judicial elections and assesses Pennsylvania’s prospects for reforming its method of judicial selection.