“Have you ever heard of the Commonwealth Court?”
According to her campaign manager and son Daniel, Ellen Ceisler asked this question to everyone she met on the campaign trail.
Regardless of the answer, Ceisler would then show that person an image of what during the campaign became famously, or infamously, known as “the pyramid,” a graphic showing the structure of the Pennsylvania court system. She even managed, Daniel Ceisler said, to put “the pyramid” in the hands of former Vice President Joe Biden.
On Jan. 9, at Philadelphia City Hall, Ceisler was installed as a judge on the Commonwealth Court, where she will adjudicate civil and appellate actions brought by and against the commonwealth. Ceisler served as a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for the past 10 years. She is one of two Jewish jurists elected to the state appellate bench last November. (Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Maria McLaughlin was elected to Superior Court.)
“My mom wanted us to look up at her and see a judge who was engaged and effective and over-prepared for every trial,” Daniel Ceisler said. “And when we did, we saw the power of the law to protect the marginalized, secure the vulnerable and stabilize lives.”
The Ceisler children’s father, Philadelphia politico Larry Ceisler, hails from Washington, Pa., where he grew up attending Beth Israel Congregation. Despite being the judge’s ex-husband, he was a strong and vocal backer of her campaign.
‘All we want, Judge, is that you do justice, and that you are willing to do the right thing no matter how difficult that may be.’
Ceisler said that running a statewide campaign while also working as a trial judge was a challenge. Another challenge was that judges, unlike other elected officials, are prohibited from making promises, soliciting funds and expressing opinions.
“I was always incredibly moved and honestly overwhelmed by the generosity of people throughout Pennsylvania willing to give me their time, energy and financial support to me when I couldn’t promise them anything in return,” Ceisler said. “When I shared these feelings with my supporters, the typical response was, ‘All we want, Judge, is that you do justice, and that you are willing to do the right thing no matter how difficult that may be.’”
In addition to Daniel Ceisler, other speakers at the installation included Ceisler’s daughter, Hannah; Jill Maderer, senior rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Shalom; and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra McCloskey Todd.
“What I can say about my mom that not a lot of young women can say about their mothers is that my mom is my best friend,” said Hannah Ceisler, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. “I go to her for advice before people my age because, unlike people my age, she actually has wisdom and experience.”
Daniel Ceisler recalled that, when he came back to the United States from a year overseas in December 2016, he returned to a changed country. In addition to catching up with his family, he spent that night discussing the political atmosphere. That was when his mother told him she was interested in running for a statewide judicial position on the Commonwealth Court.
That was, he said, the first time he had even heard of the court.
“The thing I remember most about that night was the passion you felt for a court that most Pennsylvanians don’t even know exists,” Daniel Ceiser said.
Daniel Ceisler, who has had experience working on campaigns in the past, said his introverted mother had to push herself outside of her comfort zone and attend political events almost every night, meeting hundreds of people. She also dislikes driving but put 30,000 miles — more than the circumference of the Earth — on her car in less than a year, driving across the state.
The event ended with Ceisler swearing in on a Bible and giving her own speech to thank her staff and family for their support during her campaign over the past year.
“I’m so glad to be just your mom again, not your candidate — much less complicated,” Ceisler said, addressing her son during her speech. “That being said, I don’t think you will ever truly understand how grateful I am to you. You put all of your heart and soul and energy into helping your mother fulfill an amazing dream.” PJC
Selah Maya Zighelboim writes for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.