Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Pa.'s sudden Supreme Court vacancy could linger

Plus, the push to improve treatment access for chronically ill patients in Pa.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 3, 2022
High court vacancy, health coverage, open surveillance, Trump country, new shelter, Fumo trial, and a Wawa logo dispute. It's Monday. Welcome.

Max Baer, the chief justice of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, died on Friday at the age of 74, months before he was set to retire after two decades on the court.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the first to report the news.

Justice Debra Todd is now the first female chief justice in state history. 

An appointment will be made to replace Baer, but the question is by who.

THE CONTEXT: Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) supports outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf filling the vacancy in the closing months of his administration. It's unclear if he will.

Any appointment by Wolf would require two-thirds support from the Republican-led state Senate, and with mere days left in the legislative session, lawmakers told PennLive that's unlikely to happen.

If it doesn't, the next governor of Pennsylvania, who will be chosen by voters in next month's general election, will be left to fill the pivotal vacancy before voters pick Baer's replacement in 2023 for a 10-year term.

Baer was part of a 5-2 (now 4-2) Democratic majority on the high court that upheld Pennsylvania's expanded mail voting law, a decision that only further fueled Republican criticism of the court. 

Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor and an expert on Pennsylvania's high court, told Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso that Baer was a "consensus builder" who "tried to differ and find a middle path." 

Wolf has ordered state flags at half-staff. A public memorial service for Baer will be held at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.


"When investigators take a step as dramatic as seizing property from a member of Congress, the public deserves to understand the basis for it."

—Attorney Grayson Clary on a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania news outlets seeking details on the FBI's seizure of Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry's cellphone amid an ongoing probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 election
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on...

»  Crime & Justice
»  LGTBQ Rights

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. 

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» AP: Doug Mastriano's plan for Pennsylvania school choice, explained
» INQUIRER: Only group running anti-Shapiro TV ads bows out (paywall)
» MORNING CALL: Miller, Browning spar over abortion in forum (paywall)
» NYT: Which U.S. states make it easiest, hardest to vote (paywall)
» POLITICSPA: Fetterman's lead down to three points in new F&M poll
A great blue heron at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, courtesy of Don N. Have a cool image of your own to share? Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FINISH LINE: A bill that would make it easier for chronically ill patients to get new treatments approved by insurers is being prioritized by Pennsylvania lawmakers in the final days of this legislative session. But Spotlight PA reports changes to a topic as complicated as state insurance law, even with bipartisan backing, can get messy quick, and similar efforts have failed to reach the finish line before.

PLANT WATCH: Operations are ramping up at Shell's new 400-acre petrochemical plant in Beaver County, and the Post-Gazette (paywall) says so are efforts to surveil the environmental impacts. Pitt has launched a related health survey, and air monitors are publicly gathering pollution readings. Last month, a malfunction at the site sent a large plume of black smoke into the air for 15 minutes.

'THE KINGMAKER': There is no doubt that former President Donald Trump remains popular with a swath of Pennsylvania's electorate, but will that help the GOP in next month's pivotal midterms? The AP set out to answer the question and found a confluence of factors, including electoral apathy fed by Trump's election disinformation and scorn for Republican leadership with Trump on the sidelines.

OPEN SHELTER: 45,000-square-foot homeless center is set to open in Downtown Pittsburgh this month, with a different, low-barrier approach to related services, WESA reports. More permanent housing is still needed, and city officials say they're eyeing accessory dwelling units as a stopgap. Chronic homelessness is up in Allegheny County, and Pittsburgh "tent camps" have become a media focus.

BACK TAXES: A former Philadelphia state senator is headed to trial today as he challenges an IRS demand for $3 million in back taxes and penalties stemming from a 13-year-old corruption case that ended his political career. The Inquirer (paywall) reports lawyers for former state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who was charged with defrauding the state Senate and two nonprofits, insist the tax assessments are flawed.

PAPER CHASE: Before Buzzfeed-branded airport stores there was a Philadelphia Tribune-branded airport store. The "oldest continuously published African-American newspaper in the country" launched its shop in 2020 on its home turf. Apparently, the idea is catching on

IN MEMORIAM: Clarence Smoyer, a Carbon County native and World War II tank gunner whose destruction of a fearsome Nazi tank in a duel was caught on film and shown in newsreels around the world, died at his home in Allentown on Friday, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. He was 99. 

LOGO LIFT: The convenience store chain Wawa is accusing Democratic New Jersey congressional candidate Matt Jenkins of copying their goose logo and using it in his campaign, Politico reports. A cease-and-desist letter has been issued. Jenkins told Politico any similarities are coincidental.

FALL FEST: I was in the northern tier over the weekend and there was lots of color popping on the trees. Here's the leaf-peeping forecast for your neck of the woods, via the state's weekly fall foliage report.

FOOD FIGHT: This Reddit post about a Blair County hoagie topped with a mountain of onions — that look like sauerkraut — touched off a feisty debate in the comments about what a "true Pennsylvania hoagie" is.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Repetition (or petitioner)

Congrats to our weekly winner: Antoinette F.

Congrats to our daily winners: Joel S., Michelle T., Jody A., Don H., Theresa T., Becky C., Kim C., Starr B., Elaine C., Patricia M., Susan D., Marty M., Craig W., Steve D., Tish M., Susan N.-Z., Daniel M., George S., John P., Dianne K., John B., Al M., Stanley J., Bill S., Sandy B., David W., Ron H., Tanya W., and Irene R.
Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
228 Walnut St., #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, a daily newsletter by Spotlight PA.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.