By: Charlie Gerow

The third, co-equal branch of government, the judiciary, generally operates outside the limelight that shines on the executive and legislative branches. That is until there is some landmark case.

Whether it's the infamous Kelo case on eminent domain, a decision on Obamacare or gay marriage, the judiciary has tremendous power over our daily lives.

The next president will likely have the opportunity to appoint several justices to the Supreme Court. These lifetime appointments will be a major issue in the 2016 presidential election.

In Pennsylvania we are blessed with the opportunity to elect those who judge us.

This November we have the opportunity to vote for judges ranging from local magisterial district judges to county common pleas judges to the state appellate courts. What makes this election so different is that for the first time since the Colonial era we will have the opportunity to vote for three justices of the Supreme Court.

With this election goes control of the court for a generation or more. It truly is the most important judicial election in our lifetime.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the oldest appellate court in the nation. It dates back to 1722.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the court of last resort and the final arbiter of many disputes. It also administers the entire unified judiciary, the third branch of our state government.

The Superior Court is often called "the people's appellate court" because its appellate jurisdiction goes directly to things that impact our daily lives, from personal safety (criminal law) to wills and estates to family law.

The Commonwealth Court deals primarily with cases where the commonwealth is a party and determines many statutory issues, including election law cases.

That there are three Supreme Court seats up for election, an historic first, is the result of a unique combination of retirements and resignations. Its significance is heightened by the fact that the remaining justices are evenly divided by political background, 2-2. Thus the three newcomers to the court will determine the balance of power.

The political significance of that balance is most dramatically seen in the decennial reapportionment of legislative districts. How those lines are drawn has often been a matter determined by the court.

The impact of reapportionment is felt throughout state government as control of the General Assembly, budget decisions and funding allocations hinge on the lines established every 10 years.

All citizens want judges who are fair, honest and impartial. They seek those who have significant experience as lawyers or lower court judges. They look for candidates with a reputation for integrity and who evidence "judicial temperament."

They also deserve judges with a judicial philosophy that is consistent with the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, which they take an oath to uphold.

Judicial philosophy is the defining difference between the candidates of the two parties.

The Republicans believe that judges should interpret the laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor rather than legislating from the bench. They believe that justice thrives when the Rule of Law is followed.

Democrats tend to be more activist in their approach. It's not surprising that the Democratic candidates for the state appellate courts get large contributions from labor unions and trial lawyers.

The Republican candidates are four distinguished jurists from both trial and appellate courts and a seasoned lawyer with impeccable credentials.

At the top of the ticket are Judges Judy Olson of the Superior Court, Anne Covey of the Commonwealth Court and Mike George of the Adams County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Emil Giordano of Northampton County is the Republican standard bearer for Superior Court, and attorney Paul Lalley rounds out the field as the Commonwealth Court nominee.

Judge Judy Olson received the Pennsylvania Bar Association's highest recommendation, as well as the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. Judge George, a former district attorney, has extensive judicial experience as the president judge of Adams County. Judge Anne Covey currently serves on the Commonwealth Court.

Penn State fans remember that she authored the opinion in the NCAA case that removed sanctions imposed on Penn State. Judge Emil Giordano has been a county judge for over a decade.

A graduate of the finest law school in America, he also served as an assistant district attorney. Attorney Paul Lalley has extensive experience as a lawyer and was a law clerk to a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He also boasts an impressive lineage: His father-in-law was the president of Grove City College.

Not only is this election of the judges and justices vital in what will undoubtedly be a low-turnout year, every vote will count.

You don't have to roll back the pages of history very far to see how important every vote truly is in judicial elections.

In 2003 the election of Judge Susan Gantman to the Superior Court hung in the balance for weeks and was finally decided by 28 votes out of more than two million cast.

There are elections for precinct committee positions with margins greater than 28.

Every one of the citizens who exercises their right to vote will be especially important this November.

Charlie Gerow is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Harrisburg-based public affairs firm. 

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