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Early Court Reporters

The Court's decisions become the law of the Commonwealth. As a result, judges, lawyers, and citizens need an organized collection of the Court's opinions to inform them. Today, much of that organization is digital, but back in the early days of the Commonwealth, local publishers and lawyers would publish and sell volumes of the court's decisions to the bench and bar.

"We whose past covers only 132 years feel strongly the honor of (recognizing) the bi-centennial of that more venerable court, the members of which grace this presence, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. A court which has contributed to the jurisprudence of this country through Judges like McKean, Tilghman, John Bannister Gibson and George Sharswood, and in the strength and wealth of whose judgments the genius and learning of Andrew Hamilton, Dallas, Binney, Sergeant, Rawle, the Ingersolls and a host of others of the country's greatest lawyers are manifest, may well command the admiration, pride and profound respect, not only of Pennsylvanians, but of all Americans." - US Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft

Other Writings

While the members of the Court are best known for their opinions, Justices often write law review articles or about other topics that may be of interest to them. One of the Court's most prolific writers was Justice Michael A. Musmanno.

Justice Musmanno authored twelve books, including one entirely comprising his dissenting opinions on the Court. Musmanno was the most-prolific dissenter of his court, often writing more dissents in the year than the rest of the Justices combined. Musmanno unsuccessfully served as appellate counsel on the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti case. After the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, Musmanno authored a book about the case as well as two law review articles. Musmanno later presided over the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremburg, a trial which he recounts in his book "The Eichmann Kommandos." Musmanno was later elected to the Supreme Court in 1951 where he served until his death in 1968.

Judge Musmanno sitting at Nuremberg in 1947. The tribunal found all members of the Einsatzgruppen guilty and Judge Musmanno sentenced thirteen Nazi officers to death by hanging with the remaining defendants receiving lengthy prison sentences. Photo source: Duquesne University Archives and Special Collections

Electing Justices

Prior to 1851, Chief Justices and Justices were appointed to the Court by the Governor. However, after an amendment to the State's Constitution, the sitting Justices were removed from the bench and elections were held to fill the vacancies. Seven Justices were elected to the Court, after which lots were drawn to see which Justice had the shortest term - three years - and which had the longest - fifteen years.

Jeremiah S. Black, having drawn the shortest term of three years, began his service as Chief Justice. Having drawn the six-year term, Ellis Lewis then began his three-year service as Chief Justice in 1854. Also in 1854, after the expiration of his term, Chief Justice Black ran for election and served for three additional years as an Associate Justice before becoming the US Attorney General.

Chief Justice Black was a prolific writer including his Essays and Speeches, as well as authoring the eulogy to his predecessor and the longest-serving Justice in the Court's history, John Bannister Gibson.


An oil painting of Chief Justice Black on display at the Harrisburg Courtroom.


An Italian Marble bust of Chief Justice Gibson in the Philadelphia Courtroom.

In 1816, John Bannister Gibson was appointed as a Justice on the Supreme Court, but was later appointed as the Chief Justice in 1827. He served in that role until the 1851 Constitutional amendment. Interestingly, Chief Justice Gibson was the only Justice sitting prior to that amendment to win back a seat on the Court. He drew the nine-year term, meaning he would have begun his three-year term in 1857 after Lewis's term expired. However, in ill health and against the advice of his doctors Justice Gibson travelled to Philadelphia to hear oral arguments where he died in his hotel. 

Today, Justices are elected to ten-year terms after which they must run for retention. In a retention vote, Justices do not have an opponent, rather the voters decided whether they may serve for another ten-year term. Upon a vacancy, the Chief Justice's seat is filled by the longest-serving Justice. Justices may serve until their mandatory retirement age of 75. 


Violet Oakley


Violet Oakley painted sixteen murals in the Harrisburg courtroom. This limited-edition (111 of 300) leather-bound copy of Oakley's "Law Triumphant" book contains proofs of her murals in the Capitol as well as portraits she did of delegates to the League of Nations in Geneva.

Elements of Oakley's works have also been used for the Capitol Preservation Committee's annual Christmas ornaments.

Stoltenberg v. Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Co.

This is an appeal filed by Philander Knox, James H. Reed, and Edwin Smith - the founders of global law firm Reed Smith LLP - on behalf of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company. This case involved a worker who was injured by a wire installed by the Company.

This record contains multiple documents necessary for the Supreme Court to review the Company's issues on appeal.

Read More About This Case

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