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How Does The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Work?

The Supreme Court is the highest court within Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction, often referred to as the last resort court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest in the state, with jurisdiction over the Commonwealth Court, the Superior Court, and common pleas courts.

The Supreme Court can assume power over any court case in the state. Although it is the court with the most authority, it is not required to hear every appeal. Instead, it can choose which cases to hear based on assumed importance. Because of this, the chances of an issue making it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are slim. Generally, the Supreme Court’s use is to appeal legal decisions, and any ruling regarding state law is final. As per Title 42, Chapter 7, Subchapter B of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears cases involving the following:

  • Appeals from courts of common pleas
  • Appeals from Commonwealth Court
  • Appeals from Superior and Commonwealth Courts
  • Appeals from state government agencies
  • Board of Finance and Revenue matters

The court also hears writs of habeas corpus, which is a written order allowing someone who has been placed under arrest to report unlawful incarceration. Habeas corpus can enable the individual’s release if the order and subsequent case establish that the detention is illegitimate. The court will prepare a civil lawsuit against the state agent or institution that oversaw the incarceration.

Writs of mandamus are also heard in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. These writs, also called writs of prohibition, are written orders directed towards individuals or government officials to urge them to fulfill legal obligations. Often, a writ of mandamus can compel an official to correct errors made in trial court or courts that assign penalties that are not justified.

Quo warranto is another type of case that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears. Quo warranto is a writ, or written order, towards a state official ordering them to prove their authority for their actions. A quo warranto action may be taken if there is concern that a public official may be serving in two conflicting positions. The Supreme Court reviewing a case of a lower court or state agency is called a writ of certiorari. If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wishes to grant a writ of certiorari, there must be four out of the seven justices who deem the circumstances sufficient.

There are a total of seven Supreme Court judges, known as justices. The justices are elected in non-partisan elections, meaning the candidates do not need to claim affiliation to any political party. In Pennsylvania, justices are elected for ten-year terms. After each ten year term, there are retention elections held for each judge that makes it possible for them to remain in their position. To qualify as a candidate for a supreme court justice position, an individual must have been a Pennsylvania resident for at least one year, be a member of the state bar, and be under 75. It is mandatory for all Pennsylvania judges, including Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, to retire at 75 years old.

If an elected justice must step down and cannot fulfill their duty, the governor is responsible for replacement, and the Pennsylvania State Senate must approve the replacement. These replacements are called interim judges. Although interim or temporary judges can stand for election after ten months of serving, it is not typical for them to do so. Chief justices are selected based on seniority; the justice who has served on the supreme court for the most extended time will be automatically appointed chief justice.

In Pennsylvania, a Supreme Court justice can be removed from the position in one of two ways. The first way requires that an individual of the court conduct board files a complaint against the justice for an action they have taken. This complaint, if found sufficient, will lead to an investigation. If the analysis shows probable cause, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, which is under the Commonwealth Court’s jurisdiction, will hear the case. Penalties for being found guilty as a Supreme Court justice can range from a reprimand to immediate removal. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives can also impeach Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices. The state Senate must then vote on the impeachment. If two-thirds of the Senate agree to impeachment, the judge will be removed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is located in the Pennsylvania Judicial Center. The address is as follows:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Pennsylvania Judicial Center

601 Commonwealth Ave #4500

Harrisburg, PA 17120

Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System operates and maintains a portal for viewing Pennsylvania Supreme Court dockets. Court dockets are considered public information and are available as a free public service. The latest court filings may not be immediately available through the Court Docket Sheets portal, and government agencies are not liable for delayed data or inaccuracies.

To use the portal to search for a specific case, select a Docket Search Type from the first drop-down menu. The options are Docket Number or Court Name. If searching by Docket Number, there is a space to enter it below. If the individual selects Court Name, the next drop-down menu will require selecting either Supreme, Superior, or Commonwealth. After that, it is necessary to name one of the following:

  • District
  • Docket type
  • Case category
  • Case type
  • Agency name
  • Organization name
  • Party’s last name
  • Party’s first name
  • Attorney’s last name
  • Attorney’s first name
  • Trial Court County
  • Trial Court Judge
  • Case status
  • The date the case was filed
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