This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
Democrat Matt Wolf, a Philadelphia municipal judge, will fill an open seat on Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.
The Associated Press called the race at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Unofficial results show Wolf with 53% of the vote and Republican Megan Martin, a former legislative official, with 47%.
Commonwealth Court is the first stop for civil actions brought against state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It regularly hears high-profile cases on important political issues such as election law, redistricting, and abortion.
Its rulings — such as a 2020 order that temporarily paused the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results — can be reviewed and overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Not every Commonwealth Court ruling is appealed or taken up by the high court, and those decisions have an enormous impact on politics and policy in the state. For example, the court earlier this year found Pennsylvania’s public school funding system to be unconstitutionally inequitable and ordered the legislature to reform it.
The outcome of Tuesday’s election does not change partisan control of the court. Republicans have a 5-3 edge on the 9-member bench, which typically hears cases in 3-member panels. The vacancy on the Nov. 7 ballot was created when Judge Kevin Brobson was elected to the state Supreme Court.
Wolf currently sits on the Philadelphia Municipal Court, where he has served as a judge since 2017.
Before his election, Wolf worked as a trial attorney for 25 years at various firms, primarily in New Jersey, including his father’s practice and his own. He also served in the Army Reserves as a legal officer and is an active member of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Wolf decried judicial activism in a candidate forum earlier this year, calling it “not productive.”
“I don’t believe that it is productive to be activist at all and change things for the sake of a political reason,” Wolf said.
His Republican opponent, Martin, is a Cumberland County resident, Widener University law school graduate, and the former parliamentarian of the state Senate. In that role, she was charged with advising the Pennsylvania Senate’s presiding officer on how to run floor proceedings in accordance with the state constitution, law, precedent, and chamber rules.
The state bar association recommended Martin. She has compared her judicial philosophy to that of Brobson and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
“I am a strict constructionist,” she wrote in response to a survey by 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. “I am a textualist and an originalist; I do not believe the constitution is a ‘living document.’”
Martin’s campaign outspent Wolf’s in the lead-up to the general election. Martin’s campaign has spent $556,000 since May, while Wolf’s campaign has spent $110,000, according to a Spotlight PA analysis of campaign finance records.
State appellate court judges serve 10-year terms. They earn subsequent terms through nonpartisan retention elections, in which voters are asked to approve or reject an additional 10-year term. Judges rarely lose these retention elections, which means that once on the bench, they often stay for decades. They must retire by age 75.