Politics & Government

Voters Guide | Judge retention


The merit retention provision of Pennsylvania’s constitution allows all but magisterial district judges to be retained with a simple “yes” or “no” vote without ballot reference to political affiliation. This provision was designed to remove judges from the pressures of the political arena once they begin their first term of office. Magisterial district judges run in competitive elections. Mandatory retirement age for judges is 70 years, but retired judges may, if approved by the Supreme Court, continue to serve the commonwealth as senior judges.


The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is a court of last resort that sits only en banc and presides over a mixture of direct and discretionary appeals. Every Supreme Court justice votes on every matter, including direct appeals, capital appeals (direct and collateral), allocaturs, discretionary appeals, Children’s Fast Track matters, gaming appeals, grand jury appeals, legislative redistricting appeals, King’s Bench petitions, certified questions from federal courts, election appeals, emergency petitions, petitions for review, judicial disciplinary matters, attorney disciplinary matters, recommendations from eight rules committees and six court-related boards, miscellaneous petitions, ancillary matters and pro se matters. The court’s complement of seven justices is not supplemented with senior justices, and when the court is shorthanded, as it was for over a year recently, the remaining justices must take on the added workload. Most often, but not exclusively the court reviews requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court, direct appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a death sentence is issued, requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings, and requests to deliver a body from illegal detention.

Term: 10 years

Salary: $199,606. Chief justice of the Supreme Court salary, $205,415

Retention candidates appear at the end of the ballot in the form of a question “Shall (candidate’s name) be retained for an additional term as (office sought)?”

(Vote yes or no)

Max Baer

Home address: Pittsburgh

Date of birth: Dec. 24, 1947

Education: 1971, B.A. University of Pittsburgh; 1975, J.D. Duquesne University; 1985-86, Robert Morris College, Masters of Tax Program; 2013, Hon. J.D. Widener University

Occupation: Supreme Court justice

Qualifications: Trial court judge, Allegheny County, 13 years; administrative judge, family division, 10 years; Pennsylvania Child Advocacy Award 1999; Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Adoption Advocate of the Year 1997; Champion of Children Award, Most Valuable Peacemaker, 2004

Answer to question: No. Election is a grounding, humbling experience. It’s good for our judges to be grounded and humble. No objection to expanded prerequisites for judges.

Ronald D. Castille

Home address: Philadelphia

Date of birth: March 16, 1944

Education: Auburn University 1966; University of Virginia Law 1971

Occupation: Supreme Court justice

Qualifications: Philadelphia district attorney, elected twice; five years in Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office; Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 20 years; 1st Lt. USMC (Ret.); Bronze Star; two Purple Heart Medals

Answer to question: I support the proposition. I have always (since 1993) thought the electoral process is the wrong way to select judges. Politics doesn’t always give the best judges, and the natural tendency of citizens is to think that elected judges are beholden to the political parties and special interest supporters of the candidate.


Term: 10 years

Salary: $188,337

Susan Peikes Gantman (Republican)

Home address: Narberth

Date of birth: Aug. 8, 1952

Education: 1974 University of Pennsylvania, B.A., M.A.; 1977 Villanova University School of Law, J.D.

Occupation: Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Qualifications: Judge, 9¾ years, 162 precedential opinions, including 18 en banc opinions; 2,162 memorandum decisions and dispositions; partner private practice; former assistant district attorney

Answer to question: I would not support the amendment. Fair and impartial courts are a guarantor of justice in our democracy. Competitive elections are the most democratic manner to make judges accountable to the public. An independent commission of the Pennsylvania Bar Association reviews judicial candidates and recommended Judge Gantman’s retention, stating: “(She) is recognized as possessing exemplary knowledge of legal principles. ... Her integrity and personal character are beyond reproach and she is held in high esteem.”

Jack A. Panella (Democrat)

Home address: Easton

Website: www.facebook.com/jackpanellacampaign

Date of birth: May 4, 1955

Education: 1977, St. John’s University, B.S. with honors; 1980, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, J.D. with honors

Occupation: Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Qualifications: Trial and appellate judge for 23 years; former president, judge of Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline; authored two books for judges and lawyers

Answer to question: I would support true merit selection, which would operate without political influences. This process would utilize representation by diverse organizations and professionals, differentiating it from typical appointment systems. Negative campaigning is fueled by excessive spending. The tone which dominated the campaign for the Supreme Court in 2009 is truly regrettable. While I never questioned my own judicial integrity, I made a personal pledge to never again raise money for a judicial office.