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County Hall Corner: Here Comes the Judge

On November 2nd, Lycoming County registered voters will go to the polls to vote for county sheriff, city council members, borough council members, township supervisors, school board directors, and other local offices. These are all important in their own way, and some races become quite heated. Yet what too many ignore on the ballot are the candidates for the higher courts in Pennsylvania; the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, and the Commonwealth Court.

Very few understand what these courts do, and even fewer appreciate how much these courts can impact our lives. This was most clearly seen when Governor Wolf’s draconian coronavirus restrictions in 2020 were upheld by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and only overturned after passing amendments to Pennsylvania’s constitution in last May’s ballot. By an amazing coincidence (warning: this is sarcasm), the ruling of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court was upheld 5-2, with all five in the majority coming from the Democratic Party.

We would like to think that judges are apolitical, ruling purely on the basis of the law and not ideology, but life in the real world proves that this is not the case. We are only one of eight states in the nation that picks top judges by registered voters rather than legislative appointments like the judges for the US Supreme Court. Yet though Pennsylvania is considered a toss-up state because it is relatively even between Democrat and Republican voters, the courts do not reflect that equation. As noted, the Supreme Court is 5-2 in favor of the Democrats, the Superior Court is 7-6 in favor of Democrats, and the Commonwealth Court (the lowest state court, serving as a trial court in some civil actions by or against the Commonwealth government) is 7-2 in favor of the Republicans.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court functions like the Supreme Court of the United States as it is the state’s court of last resort. This year there is one vacancy, filling the seat left by Thomas Saylor (R), who has reached the maximum age of 75. The candidates are Maria McLaughlin (D) and Kevin Brobson (R).

Next year, the Chief Justice, Max Baer (D), will also hit the maximum age. But after these two vacancies, there will not be another vote for a Supreme Court judge until 2025, in which there will be three whose terms will expire. The simple truth is for at least another five years; the Supreme Court will remain in Democratic hands.

The balance in the Superior Court hangs by one judge. The Superior Court hears appeals in criminal and most civil cases from the County Courts of Common Pleas and on matters involving children and families. This year, there is one opening, and the candidates are Timika Lane (D) and Megan Sullivan (R).

Lane was seriously challenged in the May Primary and only won the slot by eight percentage points in a three-way race. Sullivan, a former Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General, and Supervisory District Attorney earned the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission’s rating of “Recommended” as a candidate for Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She was unopposed in the Republican primary. In May’s primary, there were 903,270 Democratic voters, of which Lake received 433,717. There were 842,619 Republican voters, and all went to Sullivan. The stakes could not be higher as the court could shift to Republicans with a Sullivan win.

I have met Megan Sullivan on two occasions; the first was when she showed up earlier this year at my church. We generally have at least one or two new people visit every Sunday at Citychurch in Williamsport, and I try to make a point to greet them. When I asked if she was from the area, she said she was just traveling through. We kept talking, and eventually, she admitted that she was campaigning in the area for the Superior Court. She did not want to mention this as she was there simply to worship and not solicit votes.

I met Megan Sullivan again when she came to the Republican Party booth at the Lycoming County Fair, coincidently when my wife and I were manning the table. Megan emphasized how much she felt that the rural counties should not be neglected, which was why she was visiting these areas and listening to our concerns. Call me prejudiced, but this judge made a very powerful impression on me on both occasions. I cannot imagine a better person to sit on this important court bench than Megan Sullivan.

So, please, please, please registered voters, do not neglect this election simply because there are not any national or state legislative offices on the ballot. The local offices are important, and the state judges are even more so. Do not say your vote does not count. The only vote that does not count is the one that is not made!

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