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HARRISBURG — The winner of the Nov. 7 election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will help determine the balance of the court in coming years, and Republicans are backing Carolyn Carluccio, currently a judge in Montgomery County.
The state Supreme Court is the final stop for lawsuits in Pennsylvania. The court has seven members, and they get the final word on legal questions about everything from election policy to abortion. They also oversee the commonwealth’s other courts and regulate the legal profession, including administering the state bar and disciplining lawyers who violate ethics rules.
Carluccio will face Democrat Daniel McCaffery, currently a judge on the state Superior Court.
As the election approaches, here’s all the background voters should know about Carluccio:
Who is Carolyn Carluccio?
Carluccio is a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, to which she was first elected in 2009.
Before becoming a judge, Carluccio worked as both a prosecutor and a defender. After a few years in private practice at the start of her career, she became an assistant U.S. attorney in Delaware in 1989 and served in the role for nearly a decade. She then was chief public defender of Montgomery County from 2002 to 2006.
Carluccio also worked as chief deputy solicitor for Montgomery County, handling contract negotiations, real estate matters, and personnel and labor law issues. She also did a stint as the county’s acting director of human resources between 2008 and 2009.
Carluccio was elected unanimously by her peers to serve as president judge of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in 2022.
Reputation, rulings, and politics
Carluccio is “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which called her a “highly respected jurist” ahead of this year’s primary.
In her PBA questionnaire, Carluccio wrote that she “wants a justice system that is fair and impartial.” She also called her “diverse court experience” an asset, citing her experience in prosecution and defense as well as in family and civil cases.
Among recent cases that Carluccio highlighted in the PBA questionnaire: She ruled in favor of a Montgomery County landowner whose property was partially flooded with runoff from the Pennsylvania Turnpike; sided with a developer who sought an exception to knock down an old mansion and build senior housing; and reinstated a municipal police officer who was fired for providing an evolving excuse for missing work. All three decisions were upheld by appellate courts.
She was the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s endorsed candidate in the primary election, winning the party’s nod in February over Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough. Carluccio won the primary 54% to 46%.
She is also endorsed by the PA Pro-Life Federation, which opposes abortion access; her campaign has been targeted by ads from abortion provider Planned Parenthood’s political committee, and from other groups supporting McCaffery’s campaign.
In statements, Carluccio said that she rejects “judicial activism” and that “women’s reproductive rights are protected by Pennsylvania law.”
“I will uphold that law, and only the Governor and legislature can change it,” she added.
In a public questionnaire with a Republican-aligned interest group, Carluccio said that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “most reflects [her] judicial philosophy.”
“Justice Scalia’s originalism, embodied by the separation of powers, understanding original intent, and applying the law as written, reflects my judicial philosophy,” she wrote in a survey to the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, a nonprofit that primarily advocates for friendlier laws for the health care industry and other business interests in civil cases.
During the primary, Carluccio criticized Pennsylvania’s mail voting law, telling an Erie forum that the no-excuse mail ballots had been “very bad for our commonwealth,” according to the Associated Press.
“I would welcome that to come up before me again, let’s put it that way,” she said.
She told CBS News her concerns are about “the conflicting, and sometimes unclear, undated ballot decisions” made by the court since 2020.
In October, the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board said Carluccio told its members she had “no idea” if President Joe Biden won the 2020 election before backtracking.
At a campaign event shortly before Election Day, Carluccio said she isn’t an “election denier” and that her role is to “follow the law and uphold our Constitution.”
Fundraising has picked up for both Supreme Court candidates in the final weeks of the campaign.
Carluccio, who reported bringing in about $3.4 million for the year in her September campaign report, raked in $2.7 million over the past five weeks in the form of donations and in-kind contributions from groups funding ads on her behalf.
Most of her financial support throughout the campaign has come in the form of ads paid for by a political group tied to Pennsylvania’s richest man, Jeff Yass. This reporting period was no exception.
The Commonwealth Leaders Fund — a PAC that supports alternatives to public schools and is funded almost entirely by Yass, a billionaire Montgomery County stock trader — spent $2.2 million on ads and mailers supporting Carluccio and attacking McCaffery this cycle.
In a statement to Spotlight PA earlier this month, conservative activist Matt Brouillette, the PAC’s treasurer, said the group supports Carluccio because “she is a highly qualified judge who will uphold the Constitution, apply the law as written, and not make decisions based on partisan ideology.”
Significant donations have also come from the PA Future Fund, which is chaired by GOP power broker Bob Asher.
Outside groups, such as the Hospital & Healthcare Association of Pennsylvania, spent another $293,000 on ads either backing Carluccio or attacking McCaffery in the past five weeks.
During a forum hosted by nonprofit advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts ahead of the primary election, Carluccio said she would not participate in any case that involves one of her campaign donors.
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