April 12, 2015 12:00 AM
By Chris Potter/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are 24 judges sitting on the state Superior Court and Commonwealth Court: 17 of them are women. And depending on the outcome of this year’s Supreme Court race, women could end up holding a majority of elected judgeships on all three statewide appeal courts.
What does that mean for the political status of women in Pennsylvania, where they have a notoriously hard time winning elected office?
“I think it means maybe I should run for Superior Court judge,” said Susan Frietsche, a lawyer with the Women’s Law Project.
Observers cite several reasons for why women have had so much success in such contests. For starters, there’s a steady supply of candidates: Women have made up a majority of law-school graduates since the early 1990s, noted Heather Arnet, who heads the Women and Girls Project.
Judicial candidates also rarely have to overcome the advantages of incumbency, like superior name recognition and fundraising, that officeholders enjoy in other branches of government. (Once elected, incumbent judges only have to run for retention — a straight-up-or-down vote — every 10 years, until they retire or are removed.)
“Female candidates do well in open races, where they aren’t competing against traditional party support,” said Ms. Arnet.
But even in judicial races, that’s more true in some cases than others.
“Pennsylvanians will tell you that women do well in judicial races, but it’s really only on those intermediate statewide courts,” said Dana Brown, executive director of Chatham University’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.
Women do much worse when running at the county level, she said: Once those seats are considered, women hold just over one in four seats on the Pennsylvania bench — barely an improvement over the legislature, where one in five officeholders are female.
“There’s something unique happening on the statewide level,” Ms. Brown said. “It’s really a puzzle.”
Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette