PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- With just three weeks until Election Day, the most visible race across the state has been the race for a seat on the state Supreme Court.
The candidates won't talk about it, but Republican and Democratic insiders will say electing a Supreme Court justice inclined to their views can make all the difference on hot-button issues.
KDKA political editor Jon Delano asked both Supreme Court candidates, Democrat Maria McLaughlin and Republican Kevin Brobson, why voters should care about this race.
"For so many reasons – women's rights, voting rights, districting cases. The Supreme Court does just about everything, and I am the only one that has the experience in each and every area of the law that the Supreme Court does," says Judge McLaughlin.
"How we educate our children, how we care for our elderly, how we protect our historic and natural resources, how we elect our public officials," adds Judge Brobson. "Voters need to understand that the Supreme Court handles those kinds of cases, the cases I've been handling for nearly 12 years."
WATCH: KDKA's Jon Delano reports
A Philadelphian, McLaughlin, now on the statewide Superior Court, cites her breadth of legal and judicial experience as qualification for the highest court.
"I was a prosecutor in Philadelphia fighting for kids for nineteen years. I worked my way from the bottom to the top and then from there I was a trial judge in Philadelphia on the Court of Common Pleas, and there I did family law, criminal law, election law, labor law," says McLaughlin. "I sat there for six years, never missed a day of work, and never had a decision overturned."
Judge Brobson from the Harrisburg area was a litigator at a Pittsburgh law firm before election to the statewide Commonwealth Court, which handles cases involving the government. He's now president judge of that Court.
"I'm not a former prosecutor. I'm not a former family court judge. I'm not a former Common Pleas Court judge. But the Supreme Court already has that experience there," says Brobson. "What they don't have and haven't had for 15 years since Sandra Schultz Newman retired is a former Commonwealth Court judge, someone that does the cases that I do day in and day out and has nearly 12 years of experience doing this type of work."
Pennsylvania elects its judges, and they run with a party label even though they won't talk political issues.
But at a time when the judiciary is drawn into all sorts of hot-button issues from abortion to presidential elections, political insiders say party matters more than ever.
"I am a fighter," says McLaughlin.
Like most judges, McLaughlin, a Democrat, would rather talk about how her life experiences shaped her.
"If anybody asks me what has molded me the most in my life, it is always my time as a single mother."
"Kevin Brobson is the son of a retired Pennsylvania state trooper," says Brobson.
The Republican would also prefer to talk family.
"I'm a dad. I have three beautiful children. My daughter's a senior at Seton Hill University," he says.
But the Supreme Court is now five-to-two Democratic, and this race is for the seat of retiring former Chief Justice Tom Saylor, a Republican.
Delano: "Should a Republican be replaced by another Republican?"
Brobson: "Well, I think a good justice should be replaced by a good justice."
"When you have the opportunity to elect one, it's an opportunity to try to make the Court better, to try to bring a different voice, a different perspective, a different background to the Supreme Court," says the Republican nominee.
If Democrat McLaughlin is elected, she would be the sixth Democrat on a seven-member Court.
Delano: "Will that make a difference, one way or the other, judge?"
McLaughlin: "Well, I think if anybody knows me and my decisions, they certainly know that it does not. "
"Tell me one decision that I've ever written where you can tell my party affiliation. In fact, it's quite the opposite," says the Democratic nominee.
At a time when some see the courts as more partisan than ever, both these candidates insist they will decide cases on the law, not politics.
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