Democrats Hold Essential Pennsylvania Supreme Court Seat In Latest Abortion Campaign Test

Daniel McCaffery defeated Republican Carolyn Carluccio in a judicial race where abortion rights were front and center.

Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery, a Democrat, defeated Republican Judge Carolyn Carluccio in a closely watched race to fill a vacant Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat on Tuesday.

McCaffery’s win is the latest in a string of victories for Democrats running on an abortion rights platform following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade and ending national abortion rights protections. His campaign was supported by state and national reproductive rights groups that spent millions on advertising and grassroots efforts in the highly competitive swing state.

Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania through the 23rd week of pregnancy. The policy is supported by wide margins of Pennsylvania voters, with almost 90% stating support for legal abortion in some or all cases, according to an August 2022 poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College.

The election was held to fill the seat of Chief Justice Max Baer, who died in 2022. McCaffery’s win preserves the 5-2 majority that Democrats held on the court before Baer’s death. While the court’s balance of power was not threatened in this election, McCaffery’s win significantly buoys Democrats’ chances of holding the court long-term as two Democratic justices face retention elections in 2025.

Carluccio has not had the opportunity to rule on abortion-related questions as a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas and she made little mention of her position on abortion during the campaign. But she was endorsed by state-level anti-abortion groups like PA Pro-Life Federation and the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania. Reproductive rights groups and other Democratic Party-aligned groups hammered her for these endorsements. McCaffery, on the other hand, stated his opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on the campaign trail.

The judicial race also has ramifications for voting rights and gerrymandering policies. Carluccio had said that the state’s mail-in voting law, known as Act 77, is “very bad for our Commonwealth” and “very bad for just faith in our system” during her run for the Republican nomination.

The result may also bode well for Democrats in this closely watched swing state ahead of the 2024 election: The party is counting on continued anger over the court’s decision overturning Roe to drive turnout, as it did in the 2022 midterms. At first glance, McCaffery’s victory signals that that message still propels Democratic turnout and attracts support from swing voters.

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