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Pittsburgh's Debra Todd sworn in as first female chief justice of Pa. Supreme Court

In this Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016 photo Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra McCloskey Todd attends a ceremony at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke
In this Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016 photo Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra McCloskey Todd attends a ceremony at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania state Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd was formally installed as chief justice in a ceremony Friday afternoon at the Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.

Todd is the first female chief justice in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 300-year history.

Chief Justice Emeritus Thomas Saylor praised the move in his opening remarks.

“Having served with Chief Justice Todd for many years, and having been the beneficiary of her wise counsel, I can assure that she will lead the court into this new era with distinction and dignity,” Saylor said.

Todd said her heart was “full of joy and gratitude” for the women in law who paved the way before her and other women on Pennsylvania’s highest court.

“It’s those women’s shoulders on whom we walked and we really owe them a debt of gratitude,” she said.

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Judges and elected officials from all levels of Pennsylvania government attended the event, including Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. Todd administered the oath of office to Shapiro in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

“She is western Pennsylvania through and through,” Shapiro said. “She’s got that steelworker’s sensibility, certainly from her dad. She is a distinguished public servant.”

The daughter of a steelworker who grew up in Ellwood City, Todd has been serving for months as the first woman to be the court’s top-ranking jurist.

Chief Justice Max Baer’s death in late September 2022 elevated Todd to the court’s top spot because she has served longer than any of her colleagues.

Fellow Pennsylvania state Supreme Court Justice Christine Donohue administered Todd’s oath of office.

“This is the first time in Pennsylvania history that a proud daughter of a steelworker is being sworn into office as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania by the proud daughter of a coal miner,” Donohue said, paraphrasing a statement then-Justice Todd made before swearing Donohue in to the state Supreme Court.

A Democrat, Todd was elected to the high court in 2007 after eight years on Superior Court, where she handled civil and criminal appeals from county courts. The 65-year-old graduated from Pitt Law, and she has worked as a lawyer for 18 years, including five years as a litigator for U.S. Steel.

Todd lives in Pittsburgh and has three children.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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