In recent years, polls have regularly shown that voters are concerned about “threats to democracy.” Yet few of these surveys define what, exactly, these “threats” are, leaving it to media and pundits to guess.
Last year, the New York Times dug into what voters have in mind when they think of “threats to democracy,” To the Times’ surprise, the answer was “government corruption” and concern over “whether government works on behalf of the people.”
With this definition in hand, it’s clear that Judge Dan McCaffery, who is seeking a seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, is a threat to democracy.
Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct outlines “standards for the ethical behavior of judges and judicial candidates.” Among these standards are avoiding “nepotism” and “favoritism” in hiring decisions.
Yet, recent revelations show that immediately after being elected to the state Superior Court in 2019, McCaffery hired his domestic partner for a taxpayer-funded role in his office. She still works there.
Shortly after McCaffery hired her, the two purchased a home together in New Jersey, and voter registration records show that they continue to live together in McCaffery’s Philadelphia home.
The code of conduct defines “nepotism” as “the appointment of a judge’s spouse or domestic partner, or any relative within the third degree of relationship of either the judge or the judge’s spouse or domestic partner, or the spouse or domestic partner of such relative.”
By hiring his domestic partner, McCaffery directly violated the code of judicial conduct.
McCaffery also violated the canons of judicial ethics by engaging in conduct that compromises the “impartiality of the judiciary.”
Specifically, McCaffery promised to side with the carpenters’ union and against “greedy corporations” on issues that come before the court. He told the union, “You’ve had my back, like I’ve had yours….”
The carpenters’ union is one of the top donors to McCaffery’s campaign efforts, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars this year. What’s more corrupt than a judge promising a major campaign donor that he will rule in that donor’s favor?
The code of conduct further requires that “a judge must interpret and apply the law without regard to whether the judge approves or disapproves of the law in question.”
Yet, McCaffery is on the record saying it’s the Supreme Court’s job “to change laws that the Supreme Court thinks are necessary to change.” Instead of recognizing that the Legislature—as the people’s representatives—has the constitutional authority to write laws, Dan McCaffery believes the court should act as a supra-legislature and change laws at a whim. Rule by judicial fiat invalidates the rule of law.
A Supreme Court justice should also display discernment and good judgement in non-judicial matters.
Dan McCaffery displayed a disgraceful lack of judgement in his involvement in the porn scandal of his brother, former Justice Seamus McCaffery.
After receiving porn emails on his official government account—emails that Chief Justice Ron Castille called “the most disgusting piece of obscenity I have ever seen,” Dan McCaffery replied with “send this to my yahoo account-not work,” according to reporting from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He then claimed he had no recollection of receiving the emails and, according to the Inquirer, “he planned to call upon state court administrators, the attorney general, and federal prosecutors to investigate how and why his judicial e-mail account was ‘hacked.’”
Yet, in response to a Right-to-Know request filed by our office asking for McCaffery’s request for an investigation, the Attorney General’s office responded: “A full and complete search pursuant to the requirements of the RTKL has been conducted. It has been determined that … no identified records were found within this agency.”
If McCaffery was so confident his email was hacked, why are there no records with the Attorney General’s office of his requesting an investigation?
Fast-forward to this year, and Dan McCaffery finally acknowledged that he received the emails and that he replied. But he changed his story, claiming he replied with, “Please don’t send these to my work email.” He said that was it: “Period, end of story.”
But this response is far different from “send this to my yahoo account-not work.” It’s difficult to end a story that’s constantly changing.
From nepotism to judicial bias to inviting porn to his personal email account, Dan McCaffery has violated Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct as well as the basic norms of integrity that voters should be able to expect from their Supreme Court justices.
McCaffery’s corruption and favoritism pose not only a clear danger to the integrity of our judiciary but also an imminent threat to democracy in Pennsylvania.
Fortunately, Pennsylvanians have a better choice. Judge Carolyn Carluccio believes in applying the law as written, upholding the democratic separation of powers, and rejecting any partisan influence in her courtroom.
On Election Day, Pennsylvania voters can protect democracy by electing Judge Carolyn Carluccio to the state Supreme Court.