Death of PA. Chief Justice: A brief glimpse into the legacy of Max Baer

By: Lenora Kirkland

Waltonian | The Waltonian Max Baer died at age 74 serving the PA Supreme Court. Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts(via AP)

On Sept. 30, 2022, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court lost its Chief Justice, Max Baer. As a justice on the state Supreme Court since 2003, and a member of the Democratic party, Baer has played an essential role in a number of significant rulings for the state of Pennsylvania, but also for the United States as a whole. 

Most notably, his work culminated in a series of rulings that would facilitate Trump’s claims of a stolen election. One such decision was the accepted appeal to extend the deadline for mail-in-ballot voting during the 2020 Presidential Election. This ruling enabled 10,000 people to vote in spite of delays within the U.S. Postal Service. According to Baer, “There is nothing constitutionally infirm about a deadline of 8:00 p.m. on Election Day for the receipt of ballots”. Controversially, his decision was seen as enabling voter fraud, prompting the claims of a stolen election that fueled the eventual storming of the capital on Jan. 6, 2021.

On a more local level, Baer played a significant role in the case, Wolf v. Scarnati (2020). The case related to Gov. Wolf’s renewed disaster declaration, enabling him to enforce stricter COVID-19 regulations and shutdowns. A week after the declaration’s renewal, the Pennsylvania General Assembly began to seek its reversal through resolution HR836, without consulting the Governor, who did not present his approval. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision was that “The Pennsylvania Constitution does not empower the legislature to act unilaterally to suspend a law, and the governor’s purported suspension of law did not violate the non-delegation doctrine,” a decision that Max Baer played a significant role in determining. 

Although Baer was a crucial member of the Pennsylvania justice system, his death has left behind a vacancy that will soon be filled by Debra Todd, the first woman to hold the position. Todd has played a significant role in many of the above cases, in favor of the subsequent rulings. She was only the second woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007, and has been an active member of the state’s judicial system ever since. In a phone interview with her hometown newspaper, the Ellwood City Ledger, she determines that “now is a time of mourning, not celebration.” Out of respect for the Baer family she has declined to accept any other interviews until a later date. Her official ceremony is set to occur on Jan. 20 of this upcoming year, launching a new era of female representation in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. 

Sources: Ballotpedia, USA Today, WESA

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