Superior Court Justice Sallie Mundy, from Tioga, is being floated as a favorite of Republican Senate leadership to fill the vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court left by Justice J. Michael Eakin’s abrupt March resignation as a result of the “Porngate” scandal.
But what would be just another rumor mill item – albeit one confirmed by Republican operatives across the state – comes with a twist: Mundy would apparently only leave her current position if she could run to keep the Supreme Court seat in 2017.
The move, purportedly emanating from the offices of state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, would chart new political territory.
“You normally replace a Republican with a Republican, with the understanding that they won’t run” in the upcoming election, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics at Franklin and Marshall College. “That’s long been the tradition.”
Madonna said political parties would typically push uncontroversial, retirement-age individuals from the Superior Court to the governor’s office for a speedy appointment, while prepping another candidate to stand for election to the state’s highest court.
It doesn’t always work out: Judge Correale Stevens was appointed to replace Justice Joan Orie Melvin in 2013, but stood (unsuccessfully) for a full 10-year term in last year’s primary despite being nearly 70 years old.
The 53-year-old Mundy doesn’t fit that profile, to say the least.
Rumors have it that the rift between Republican power brokers and the state committee has continued to grow following the party’s judicial thumping last year, which saw three Democrats sweep the court. Increasingly powerful legislative leaders like Corman are apparently pushing a new direction for the party at the expense of chairman Rob Gleason.
“State Committee members are much more conservative than the voters as a whole in Pennsylvania,” said one source, crediting the committee’s candidate selection process with churning out unelectable candidates.
Pushing the youthful Mundy now with the understanding that she’d be teed up for a run at a full term would marginalize some of the committee’s decision-making.
Gleason has reportedly been displeased by the early pro-Mundy push, although the state party declined to comment. Corman’s office was only slightly more revealing.
“We’ve heard the rumor, but right now, anything regarding a Supreme Court Justice would be between the Republican Senate and the governor,” said Jennifer Coker, a spokesperson for Corman. “The main strategy at this point is that it was a Republican seat and we’ll be nominating a Republican.”
Madonna said a push by Senate leaders to override the state party was in keeping with recent political trends.
“The leadership in the party has been shifting to the legislature for more than a decade now – that’s important,” he said. “Where does the money come from? Who recruits the candidates? Who provides the polling? Senate leaders do this.”
But the efficacy of this latest strategy was still unclear.
“It’s not a bad idea to appoint somebody now who would become a future candidate, particularly if [Senate leadership] were to select a woman or a minority – that’s not a bad move,” said Madonna. “But what do they do by disrupting their party?”
Mundy’s husband, a prominent Northeast PA trial lawyer, had been shopping her as a Supreme Court candidate for some time, sources said. She’s said to be a favorite of trial lawyers across the state for her history of favorable rulings for plaintiffs in her court.
Neither of the Mundys returned a call for comment.