PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer dies at 74

In news that shocked the legal community in the Keystone State, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer died suddenly early Saturday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Baer’s passing was confirmed by the state high court in a news release issued that same day, and the cause of the justice’s death at the age of 74 was not immediately known.

Prolific legal career

As the Post-Gazette noted, Baer’s professional career in law began to take root following his graduation from the night program at Duquesne University Law School in 1975.

From there, he spent time working as a deputy attorney general for the state until 1980, when he embarked on nine years in private legal practice.

In 1989, Baer won election to a judicial position in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, working primarily in the family division, a position in which he garnered accolades for his efforts to reform adjudication processes for juvenile offenders.

Ascending to the state’s high court in 2003, Baer was eventually named chief justice in 2021, and he was, according to Fox News, poised to step down at the end of this year due to the body’s mandatory retirement age of 75.

As a result of Baer’s death, Justice Debra Todd, who was slated to take over for the jurist following his retirement, will now serve as chief justice, and Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf will select a new justice to fill the newly-created vacancy on the bench, which already consisted of a 5-2 Democratic majority that included Baer.

Tributes pour in

Upon learning the news of Baer’s passing, colleagues of the justice – past and present – began offering words of praise for the late jurist, with Justice Todd declaring, “This is a tremendous loss for the court and all of Pennsylvania.”

“Chief Justice Baer was an influential and intellectual jurist whose unwavering focus was on administering fair and balanced justice. He was a tireless champion for children, devoted to protecting and providing for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens,” she added.

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Emeritus Thomas Saylor called Baer a “consummate gentleman” with whom he had just spoken on Friday. “He was very conscious when he took over as chief justice of continuing to foster a spirit of collegiality among the justices,” he stated.

Legal scholar and Duquesne University President Ken Gormley said of Baer, “He was collegial, he worked really hard to have the court function as a family, and he led by example. He was the most caring person imaginable, always put others first and celebrated their successes. He hated pettiness. He had no time for pettiness.”

According to the Post-Gazette, Baer leaves behind a wife, two sons, and five grandchildren, in addition to a host of friends and colleagues within the legal profession and beyond, who will fondly remember his contributions to the state in which he spent his career.