Judicial Qualifications

Before Justices, Judges and Magisterial District Judges can be appointed or elected to their positions, they must meet certain basic requirements such as citizenship and residency. In addition, all but Magisterial District Judges and Philadelphia Traffic Court Judges must be members of the Bar of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Jurists are also subject to strict standards of conduct, and they may be removed, suspended or otherwise disciplined for misconduct in office. Those standards are specified in the Pennsylvania Constitution; the "Code of Judicial Conduct" in the Pennsylvania Rules of Court, which applies to appellate and trial court judges; the "Rules of Conduct, Office Standards and Civil Procedures for Magisterial District Judges"; and such other court rules and orders as have been promulgated by the state Supreme Court.

Judicial elections occur in odd-numbered years. With the exception of the special court judges, all justices and judges within the Unified Judicial System are elected to ten-year terms. Magisterial District Judges and Judges of Philadelphia's Municipal and Traffic Courts are elected to terms of six years, while Judges of Pittsburgh Magistrates Court are appointed by the mayor to four-year terms. Vacancies occurring before an election may be filled by gubernatorial appointment, subject to Senate confirmation, until such time as an election is held.

Judges and justices may serve an unlimited number of terms and are re-elected at the pleasure of the electorate. The "merit retention" provision of Pennsylvania's constitution allows justices and judges to run for re-election on a "yes-no" vote, without ballot reference to political affiliation. This provision was designed to remove judges from the pressures of the political arena once they begin their first terms of office.

Mandatory retirement age for judges is 75 years, but retired judges may, with the approval of the Supreme Court, continue to serve the Commonwealth as senior judges. This service helps ease court backlogs. Effective January 1, 2008, all but senior appellate judges and those senior judges who were sitting before this time, may serve as senior judges until they reach the age of 78.