Pennsylvania Supreme Court Candidates Differ on Abortion

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 11, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Candidates Differ on Abortion

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
September 11, 2003

Harrisburg, PA ( — For years, people who want to vote a straight pro-life ballot have complained about the fact that they don’t know enough about the judicial candidates to vote wisely.

But, with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that appeared to open up dialogue in court races, some voters wondered whether they might finally be able to determine where judicial candidates stood on abortion and other life issues.

Previously, judicial candidates nationwide were barred from offering their personal views on hot-button political issues on the premise that courts should be insulated from political influences. However, a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Minnesota v. White, held that the right to free speech outweighed such concerns.

In Pennsylvania, following the High Court ruling, the state Supreme Court rescinded a rule which prevented judicial candidates from taking positions on "disputed or political issues." The Pennsylvania court also amended its rules of judicial conduct to include a new commitment clause preventing judicial candidates from making statements "that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court."

As a result of this strict interpretation, pro-life forces in Pennsylvania say they realize that judges with pro-life views will be hesitant to express them.

In spite of the state Supreme Court’s interpretation, one Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate is being especially outspoken in his support for abortion. Meanwhile, his opponent, who is recommended by the state’s largest pro-life group, is being careful not to talk about abortion at all.

Democrat Max Baer has the enthusiastic backing of the pro-abortion group NARAL-PA, Planned Parenthood, and other organizations that support abortion. Baer, a judge with the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, was quoted in the NARAL primary voter guide as saying, "I am pro-choice and proud of it."

In sharp contrast, Baer’s Republican opponent, Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin, has declined to comment on abortion, saying that, because of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s strict interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court free speech ruling, she cannot talk about controversial issues which might appear before the court.

Nevertheless, Orie Melvin has the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation’s Political Action Committee.

"There’s a clear difference between the candidates running for the state Supreme Court," said Mary Beliveau, Legislative/PAC Director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. "The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation PAC is urging voters to go to the polls November 4 and vote for Joan Orie Melvin for state Supreme Court."

Orie Melvin is from a family of nine children and is the mother of six children. She is described as "a devout Roman Catholic committed to strong family values" and a graduate of Catholic schools and colleges. A veteran of the City of Pittsburgh Municipal Court, the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, and the state Superior Court, Orie Melvin is described as "a strong conservative judge who applies the law in a fashion that produces just results."

Her opponent, Baer, has been a trial judge for 14 years and served as an Administrative Judge in Family Court for seven years. Baer says he "transformed family court into one of the most innovative and effective courts in the country."

However, Baer has been sharply criticized for allowing a young girl to remain with a foster father who had been previously convicted of incest. The state Superior Court later ordered that Judge Baer reconsider the decision, and the girl was ultimately removed from her foster father’s home.

In a statement to the League of Women Voters, Baer reiterated his belief that judges should reveal their stands on political issues. "I believe the people have a right to know the core beliefs and opinions of all candidates, including judges."

However, in a May editorial, editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper wrote, "Although judicial candidates may be confident that they can separate their ‘personal views’ on issues like gun control and abortion from the way they read the law, many voters may overlook the distinction and feel betrayed when a judge in their view ‘breaks his promise’ by adhering to legal precedent that is at odds with his — and their — ‘personal views.’"

As a result of the dilemma facing Pennsylvania judicial candidates regarding taking a public stand on issues which may come before the court, pro-life voters are being urged to consult the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation PAC’s voter guide in order to determine which candidates to vote for.

Related web sites:
Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation –