The State of Pennsylvania has a long and storied past with a rich history. As part of the first territories settled in a new nation, the judicial system sprung from a looser collection of legal entities as the government began to take shape. Research into its history and current status reveals interesting facts that every resident of Pennsylvania should know. The system has grown and evolved through the centuries since its inception. To bring you current with its history and rich past, here are twenty things you probably didn’t know about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
1. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is nearing its 300th birthday
According to Ballot Pedia, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court emerged in 1722. The judicial system has a birthday coming up soon as it marks its 300th year in existence, as the highest court in the land for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
2. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court succeeded the Provincial Court
The roots of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court go further back in time to an era when the United States had not yet been declared a sovereign country. The Provincial Court made the first rulings in the commonwealth from 1684, until it was replaced by the Supreme Court. It has the distinction of being the oldest appellate court in the nation. We were truthful about Pennsylvania’s rich and storied history.
3. Jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is not exclusive, but it can assume authority
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is referred to as the highest court in the state, with appeals heard as a matter of last resort. Although the Court has original jurisdiction, it is not exclusive over cases of mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus. It hears certain direct appeals from various courts in the Pennsylvania judicial system, including the Commonwealth Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court may assume jurisdiction over any case within the state court system, however.
4. The election process is unique
The election process for the court is different than in most other states. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices are elected through partisan processes. Only eight states use this method for selection. The most recent election results ended in one Republican judge, one judge was appointed by a Democratic governor, and five were elected as Democrat judges. Seven judges sit on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court panel.
5. Terms are lengthy for Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices
The duration of terms for Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices is longer than many other states’ terms. Upon election, a judge agrees to serve a ten-year term. When the term comes to a close the judge must run in a retention election if they wish to continue as a member of the court. These are yes-no elections indicated on a separate part of the ballot.
6. Age limitations are less stringent for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Supreme Court justices are governed in each state by set age limitations. The age limit for active service varies from state to state. in Pennsylvania, the age limit is 75. When a justice reaches the age of 75 years, retiring from the court is mandatory. Many other states have lower age limits at an average of 70 years old.
7. Supreme Court justices must meet three criteria in Pennsylvania
To be eligible to run for election, or be appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, candidates must meet three criteria. Requirements include age under 75 years, the status of legal resident of Pennsylvania for a minimum of one year before running, and candidates must be a member of the state bar.
8. The chief justice is selected by seniority
In Pennsylvania, the supreme court chief justice is selected through a simple method. The senior member of the group becomes the chief justice. By seniority, we mean the judge who has held the title as the longest-serving on the court. The process eliminates the need to hold any special nominations, or elections processes.
9. The governor may appoint a justice under special circumstances
Most Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices are elected via a partisan system of public voting. There are some circumstances in which the governor of the state may name an appointee to the position. If a position becomes vacant for any reason, in the middle of a term, the governor may appoint a successor to fill the position. The appointment is not legal and binding unless the candidate is approved with a two-thirds vote of the Pennsylvania Senate. The appointed candidate fills the post until the next election commences. The position then opens to be filled by the elected candidate through the partisan election system.
10. 2015 was a monumental year for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
An unprecedented event occurred in 2015 for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This was the first year in the history of the court where there were three seats on the court up for election. There had never been this many seats coming up at one time in an election year. The chief justice reached the mandatory retirement age, another judge was coming upon the end of a replacement term, and the third entered into forced retirement due to allegations of misconduct. 2015 was the first year in the history of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the panel of seven would see the large turnover of nearly half of the justices in one year.
11. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had a rocky start
PA Courts revealed that the beginnings of the court system existed in a much different form. the first judicial system was a collection of part-time courts in a disparate array which originated under the guidance of William Penn under the reign of the Duke of York. There was no final appeal court in the system. In the early days of the judicial system in Pennsylvania, all appeals were heard by British courts in England. Organizers were unable to unify the early judicial system of the colony, although multiple attempts were made before 1700.
12. A congressional act brought the Pennsylvania early courts together
In the development process of the Pennsylvania judicial system, chaos was rampant throughout the colony. In 1722, the judicial system hit a major milestone with the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1722. The powerful act established the Courts of Common Pleas in Chester and Bucks counties and Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was also established as a response to the act.
13. More courts emerged in 1776
Greater progress was made as the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 came into existence. It established the Orphan’s Court, the Courts of Common Plea, and the Courts of Sessions in each county with a framework that encompassed the entire state for judicial system development. The mishmash of attempts at developing a cohesive judicial system was finally starting to take shape under a unified effort that bound them all inextricably together, under a regulated and even flows of distribution of each of the responsibilities of the courts in the system.
14. The Supreme Court’s workload increased until 1790
The rich story of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court contains passages that the average citizen does not know. Although public knowledge, few delve into the details of the events that took place in the hard struggle to bring unification to the courts’ system in a brand new country that still faced the birth pangs of separating from its original claimants on the land titles. The Constitution of 1722 was a good start, but there was much more to be done. Less than 70 years later, the struggle continued to bring a greater semblance of order to the judicial system. A new constitution came about in the year 1790, grouping counties into judicial districts. Head judges were appointed at the heads of these districts leading the Common Pleas Court. this took the rising workload off the Supreme Court and helped to ease the burden.
15. The General Assembly stepped in the help in 1895
The increasing case numbers resulted in the need for even more relief on the Pennsylvania Supreme court. In 1895, the Superior Court was created by the General Assembly. Its purpose was to take some of the heavy workloads off the Supreme Court. each appellate court retained separate jurisdictions. The judicial of the State of Pennsylvania was moving closer to the system that is now in place, but there would still be more changes along with way.
16. The Commonwealth Court was established in 1868
The Supreme Court received a great deal of relief from the establishment of the Superior Courts, however, through time, the cases followed historical patterns and continued to increase past the point of a reasonable workload. Both Superior and Supreme Courts were again, overcapacity in the cases requiring their attention. The Commonwealth Court was established by the Constitution of 1968, to attempt to reduce the workload of Superior and Supreme appeals courts. It resulted in an alteration of the minor court system with a reorganization of the existing judiciary into the Unified Judicial System that consisted of multiple courts including Municipal Courts, Traffic Courts, Magisterial District Courts, Superior, and Supreme Courts.
17. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decreased its jurisdiction
The jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was decreased in 1980, through a legislature-approved order that expanded the Superior Court. This gave the Superior Court more leeway in using discretion about rejection or acceptance of most appeals. It further reduced the heavy caseload on the Supreme Court to allow greater deliberations on weighty matters without the need to rush through cases to keep up with the mountain caseloads. The goal was to improve the efficacy of the highest courts in making impactful decisions that would set powerful precedents within the judicial system.
18. The Pennsylvania Judicial Center was finished in 2009
It took more than three centuries for the Judicial Center to emerge as the home of the system within the Harrisburg capitol complex. In 2009, the Center was completed, establishing an administrative headquarters for the courts’ system of Pennsylvania, for administration under the Supreme Court. Those who tour the Pennsylvania Judicial Center see a building that houses the judicial system for the state, but many do not realize the significance of the home. It is much more than that. It is now the home of a system that is more than three hundred years in the making. The rich history of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the lower courts and their struggle to become unified under one system is represented within its walls. It stands as a testament to the progressive forward movement and achievements made by the legislature, in the development of the high court that
19. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is one of the oldest judiciaries in the United States
Young attorneys learn about the judicial systems in their respective states. Few of them hold the richness of history as that of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court has its roots at the beginning of the nation, but it goes back even further than that. You can trace the judicial system of Pennsylvania back to an era when it was a colony under the oversight of the Duke of York before American achieved its independence from England.
20. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court evolved through time
The battles were hard-fought to gain independence, but during the battle for nationhood, communities and commonwealths needed judicial systems to keep law and maintain order, serving justice for the populations who resided therein. The system underwent a series of changes with struggles over administration and how the courts should be divided. The chaotic situation created by the emerging birth of a nation further complicated the establishment of a cohesive judicial system. Gradually, and throughout the years, one act after another, and each new state constitution brought about changes that helped unify the judicial system, providing a grouping of lower courts to relieve the mounting caseload for the appellate courts. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has a noteworthy past compared to most others.