The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is an important institution that handles cases related to state regulatory agencies and local government. This November, Judge Matt Wolf is running as a Democratic candidate for a seat on the court. Wolf currently serves on the Philadelphia Municipal Court, but now has his sights set on the statewide Commonwealth Court. His candidacy provides voters with a choice between different perspectives on the role of the judiciary. To make an informed decision, it is helpful to understand Wolf’s background, his stances, and what exactly the Commonwealth Court does. This article will explore Wolf’s bid for the court and why these state judicial elections truly matter.
Matt Wolf’s Background
Current Role as Philadelphia Judge
Matt Wolf was elected to the Philadelphia Municipal Court in 2017 and assumed office in 2018. The Municipal Court handles landlord-tenant disputes, real estate matters, licensing appeals, and misdemeanor criminal cases within the City of Philadelphia. As an experienced judge on this court, Wolf has adjudicated thousands of cases impacting the lives of city residents. Prior to joining the bench, he worked as a litigation attorney in Philadelphia for 15 years.
Education and Early Legal Career
A native Philadelphian, Wolf earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree from Temple University School of Law. After law school, he clerked for a Common Pleas Court judge in Philadelphia before entering private practice at a boutique litigation firm. During his legal career before becoming a judge, Wolf gained broad experience in civil and criminal cases at both the trial and appellate levels. This background laid the foundation to effectively manage his docket as a Municipal Court judge.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
Overview and Responsibilities
The Commonwealth Court is one of Pennsylvania’s two statewide intermediate appellate courts, along with the Superior Court. While the Superior Court handles criminal and most civil appeals, the Commonwealth Court’s docket focuses on cases involving state and local governments. For example, the court adjudicates claims against state agencies and offices, election disputes, liquor license appeals, and lawsuits between municipalities or between municipalities and the state. Having specialized expertise in governmental matters is essential for Commonwealth Court judges.
The Commonwealth Court has nine elected judges who serve 10-year terms. Judges run in partisan elections – registered Democrats and Republicans square off in their respective primaries ahead of the general election. Currently, Democrats hold a narrow 5-4 majority on the nine-member court. The impending end of Judge Anne Covey’s term gives Democrats the opportunity to expand their control and inject fresh perspectives into the court’s decision-making.
Wolf’s Candidacy for Commonwealth Court
Democratic Nomination and Primary
In January 2023, Wolf announced his candidacy for an open seat on the Commonwealth Court. Despite the court’s lower public profile, he encountered a competitive four-way Democratic primary battle. Wolf’s extensive legal experience and his standing as an elected Philadelphia judge helped him earn his party’s nomination in the May 2023 primary. His victory positioned him well for the November general election.
General Election Campaign
With no Republican candidate on the ballot, Wolf faces just one opponent in November – Green Party candidate Olivia Faison. Wolf is campaigning on his judicial record of efficiently resolving cases and treating all parties fairly and respectfully. He pledges to bring this same diligent, open-minded, and ethical approach to the Commonwealth Court. If elected, Wolf would provide an informed perspective on issues like government transparency, environmental regulations, election procedures, and municipal authority.
Positions and Priorities
While Commonwealth Court judges should avoid making pledges that compromise their impartiality, Wolf has emphasized several priorities for his time on the court. He plans to promote expedient case resolution, court modernization through technology, plain language rulings, and ensuring all litigants receive their full opportunity to be heard. Wolf also aims to enhance civic education on the essential role of an independent judiciary in upholding democracy and the rule of law.
The Importance of State Courts
Impact on Daily Life
Though they lack the high profile of the U.S. Supreme Court, state courts handle exponentially more cases touching the lives of citizens every day. From traffic violations to evictions to business disputes, state courts adjudicate these matters based on state laws and precedents. The Commonwealth Court’s decisions influence critical facets of daily life like utilities, environmental quality, workplace safety, consumer protection, and electoral integrity. With judges elected rather than appointed, it is truly the people’s chance to shape state courts.
Checks and Balances
State courts also provide the essential check of judicial review over state and local officials and agencies. When the executive or legislative branches overreach their authority, courts can deem their acts unconstitutional through cases brought by harmed citizens or organizations. By restricting government overreach and these vital checks and balances, strong state courts uphold the separation of powers that underpins American democracy.
Matt Wolf has the background and temperament to serve the people well as a Commonwealth Court judge. While Wolf’s Municipal Court service makes him well prepared for the job, some may prefer a candidate outside the Philadelphia court system or with expertise handling a different mix of cases. Ultimately, citizens have an important choice that will influence how Pennsylvania handles governmental matters for the next decade. Wolf’s perspectives could provide balance to the current court, or voters may opt for continuity instead.
- Matt Wolf is a Democratic candidate for a 10-year term on Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court
- Wolf currently serves as an elected judge on Philadelphia’s Municipal Court
- The Commonwealth Court handles cases involving state agencies, local governments, elections, and regulatory issues
- Wolf won a four-way Democratic primary to earn his general election spot
- State courts like the Commonwealth Court have an enormous impact on citizens’ daily lives
What is the partisan makeup of the current Commonwealth Court?
The current Commonwealth Court has a 5-4 Democratic majority among its nine elected judges.
How long is the term for a Commonwealth Court judge?
Commonwealth Court judges serve 10-year terms before facing reelection.
What types of cases does the Commonwealth Court handle?
The court handles matters related to state agencies, local governments, elections, liquor licenses, professional regulation, and environmental issues.
Who are the candidates for Commonwealth Court in 2023?
The candidates are Democrat Matt Wolf and Green Party candidate Olivia Faison.
When is the 2023 election for Commonwealth Court?
The election will take place on November 7, 2023.