Supreme court nominee withdraws amid release of racially insensitive emails

By Jim Boyle | Feb 24, 2015

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court bench will remain at five judges for the

rest of the year after one of Governor Tom Wolf's two nominees announced his withdrawal from consideration to fill the post.

Governor Tom Wolf today accepted Judge Thomas Kistler’s voluntary withdrawal of his nomination to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The loss of Kistler's nomination compelled Senate Republicans to cancel confirmation hearings for Wolf's second nominee, Ken Gormley, dean at the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh.

“Today, Judge Thomas Kistler voluntarily withdrew his nomination to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and I accepted," Wolf said in a statement. “I will make no further nominations, and Senate Leadership has said they will not hold hearings for either of the existing vacancies on the Supreme Court.”

The announcement comes after the revelation last week that Kistler sent a racially insensitive email during the 2013 holidays. In a statement announcing his withdrawal on Monday, Kistler acknowledged he sent the email, but cited unstable situations in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas, where he serves as president judge.

“Since November, when I first offered to serve the Commonwealth on the highest court in Pennsylvania, several circumstances have developed here at home in Centre County, which have dramatically altered the legal system and require my full attention,” Kistler said. “I cannot with a clear conscience abandon my responsibilities to Centre County in this time of uncertainty.”

According to reports, Kistler sent an email in December 2013 that featured an image of a black woman visiting a black man in prison with the caption, "Merry Christmas from the Johnsons." Kistler admitted in his statement Monday to forwarding the message and claimed it was done with no ill will.

Kistler, a Republican, and Gormley, a Democrat, were nominated by Wolf at the beginning of the month to fill the two seats left open by the forced retirement of Ronald Castille and the resignation of Seamus McCaffery.

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