The legal community in the Keystone State was shocked and saddened this weekend to learn that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer died suddenly at the age of 74, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Baer's death was confirmed by the state's high court in a news report released issued Saturday, and the jurist's cause of death was not immediately known.
According to the Post-Gazette, Baer's career in the law began after his graduation from the evening program at Duquesne University Law School in 1975, subsequently going on to work as a deputy attorney general for the state until 1980 before spending nearly a decade in private practice.
It was in 1989 that Baer secured election to a judicial post in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, a role in which he focused primarily on the family division and earned accolades for his commitment to reforming adjudication processes for juvenile offenders.
Moving on to a seat on the state's high court in 2003, Baer was ultimately named chief justice of the panel in 2021, and, as Fox News noted, he was slated to step down from the post at the end of this year due to the body's mandatory retirement age of 75.
The news of Baer's demise produced an outpouring of tributes and praise, with fellow Justice Debra Todd declaring in a statement, "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.
Thomas Saylor, chief justice emeritus of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, described Baer as a "consummate gentleman," someone with whom he had just spoken on Friday, and a jurist who "was very conscious...of continuing to foster a spirit of collegiality among the justices."
Ken Gormley, a noted legal scholar and current president of Duquesne University, honored Baer by saying, "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."
Baer's death with now accelerate the ascension of Todd to the role of chief justice, a change that was already scheduled to occur upon his impending retirement, and it will then be incumbent upon Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf to name a new justice to fill the resulting vacancy on the high court, which already had an existing imbalance in his party's favor of 5-2, including Baer.