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Robert Patrick "Bob" Casey, Sr. (January 9, 1932 May 30, 2000) was an Americanmarker politician and member of the Democratic Party who served Pennsylvaniamarker in several capacities, most notably as its 42nd Governor from 1987 to 1995. He is best known for leading the pro-life wing of the Democratic Party, and for taking the lead in fighting Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a major Supreme Court course case that upheld almost all the prohibitions on abortion that he signed into law. Casey was an Irish American Democratic "pol" of the old school, the son and grandson of coal miners, who championed unions and believed in government as a beneficent force. In a state that reveres deer hunting, he was gun-friendly.

He is the father of Bob Casey, Jr., who is currently a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

Early life

Born in Jackson Heights, Queens, Casey grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvaniamarker, the son of Marie Cummings and Alphonsus Liguori Casey, a devoutly Roman Catholic former coal miner who began working as a coal miner at age 10 and began practicing law by age 40.

Bob Casey turned down an offer to play for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1949, opting to go to college instead. He graduated from the College of the Holy Crossmarker with a B.A. in 1953, and received his Juris Doctor from George Washington Universitymarker in 1956.

Political career

Unsuccessful tries for Governor

A member of the Democratic Party, Casey was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate in 1962. He first sought the office of Governor of Pennsylvania in 1966, losing the Democratic Party primary to Milton Shapp. Casey was the candidate of the party establishment, but the independently wealthy Shapp ran a successful insurgent campaign for the nomination. Casey tried on two other occasions without success, in 1970 (again losing to Shapp) and again in 1978 (losing to Pete Flaherty). Considered a moderate and despite growing frustration with Democratic Party policies, Casey rejected Republican offers to run for Governor on their ticket on two occasions. In 1968 and 1972 Casey was elected to the post of Auditor General of Pennsylvania.

Mistaken identity

Restricted from seeking another term as Auditor General of Pennsylvania, Casey declined to seek the office of State Treasurer in 1976. Instead, a county official who was also named Robert Casey won the Democratic primary and the general election, spending virtually no money and doing virtually no campaigning; voters merely assumed they were voting for the outgoing Auditor General. In 1980 the Republicans launched an extensive advertising campaign to clarify that "Casey isn't Casey," and the Democratic state treasurer was defeated for re-election.

In 1978, yet another candidate named Robert Casey, a different Robert Casey, this one a teacher and ice cream parlor owner, likewise received the Democratic party's nomination for Lieutenant Governor, again with a no-spending, no-campaigning strategy. This Casey, who joined Democratic gubernatorial nominee Pete Flaherty, narrowly lost to Richard Thornburgh and William Scranton III.

1986 gubernatorial campaign

Robert P.
Casey campaigning in Pittsburgh, 1986.
Photo by Michael Casey.
After a decade practicing law, Casey made a fourth bid for governor in 1986, billing himself as the "real Bob Casey" to distinguish himself and make light of the mistaken identity follies of the past. Dubbed "the three-time loss from Holy Cross" by detractors, Casey hired two then-generally unknown political strategists, James Carville and Paul Begala, to lead his campaign staff.

Unlike his three previous tries, Casey won the Democratic primary, defeating Philadelphiamarker district attorney (and future Philadelphiamarker Mayor and two term governor) Ed Rendell. He then faced Thornburgh's lieutenant governor, William Scranton III in the general election. The race was considered too close to call until the week before the election, when the Casey campaign staff, led by Carville, launched the now infamous "guru ad" which attacked Scranton's practice of transcendental meditation. The ad campaign depicted Scranton as a "dope smoking hippie," complete with 1960s-era pictures of the lieutenant governor wearing long hair, a beard, and tie-dyed clothing. Casey defeated Scranton by a margin of 79,000 votes.


Inaugurated January 20, 1987, Casey was immediately confronted with several serious issues. R. Budd Dwyer, the State Treasurer who had been convicted on charges of accepting kickbacks, committed suicide at a televised press conference just two days into his term.

Casey brought what he called an "activist government" to Pennsylvania, expanding health care services for women, introducing reforms to the state's welfare system, and introducing an insurance program for uninsured children (which became a model for the successful SCHIP program later adopted nationwide). Casey also introduced a "capital for a day" program, where the state's official business was conducted from eighteen different communities throughout the state. Despite charges that his administration squandered a budget surplus and ran the state into record annual budget deficits, Casey remained popular with voters, easily winning re-election in 1990 against pro-choice Republican nominee Barbara Hafer. Polling data showed that abortion attitudes were a stronger predictor of vote choice than party affiliation.

Governor Casey was well-known as a staunch pro-life advocate. In 1989 Casey pushed through the legislature the "Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act," which placed limitations on abortion, including the notification of parents of minors, a twenty-four-hour waiting period, and a ban on partial-birth procedures except in cases of risk to the life of the mother. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued, with Casey as the named defendant, asserting that the law violated Roe v. Wade. The case went to the United States Supreme Courtmarker in April, 1992. On June 29, 1992, in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey the Supreme Court, upheld all of Pennsylvania's restrictions except one (the requirement for spousal notification) and affirming the right of states to restrict abortions.

Regarding capital punishment, Governor Casey signed 21 death warrants, but none of those were carried out, and Pennsylvania resumed executions under Casey's successor Tom Ridge. Prosecutors have often criticized the slowness of the review process under Casey, and he signed only two death warrants after May, 1991.

On November 29, 1990 Governor Casey signed a bill that eliminated the electric chair as a method of executions in Pennsylvania, to be replaced by lethal injection.

1992 Democratic National Convention controversy

Because he considered abortion a key social issue for the 1992 presidential election, Casey sought a speaking slot to give a minority plank on the topic at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. He was not given a speaking slot and in a series of news conferences he said the party was censoring his pro-life views since he agreed with the party on nearly all other issues. Convention organizers said that Casey was not allowed to speak because he did not support the Democratic ticket. Kathleen Brown, who also had not endorsed the ticket, did address the convention, as did several pro-life Democrats such as John Breaux. After the convention, Casey went on vacation rather than campaign for Clinton in Pennsylvania, which was a key swing state. He also refused to say whether he would campaign for the Democratic nominee though he told the New York Times, "I support the ticket. Period." Several pro-life Democrats spoke at the convention, but they did not focus their remarks on their opposition to abortion, and the issue was not debated the way Casey had wanted.

U.S. Senate politics

On April 4, 1991, Governor Casey was faced with filling a vacancy in the U.S. Senate when Republican U.S. Senator John Heinz died in a plane crash. After briefly considering appointing Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca, an Allentown, Pennsylvaniamarker native, Casey settled on state Secretary of Labor and Industry, and former Kennedy functionary Harris Wofford (despite private fears that he was too liberal for rural Pennsylvania voters). According to former Casey press secretary Vince Carocci, the Governor insisted on two conditions:

First, that Wofford would bring Carville and company on to manage his campaign for election; second, when the issue of abortion came up as it inevitably would, Harris would proclaim his support for the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which already had its constitutionality upheld by the U.S.
Supreme Court.

With those assurances in hand, Governor Casey appointed Wofford to the Senate, and then vigorously supported him in Wofford's uphill fight to remain in the Senate against former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh in the special election held that fall. Thanks in large part to Casey's fundraising prowess and Carville's political ability, Senator Wofford scored an upset victory over Thornburgh.

However, Casey and Wofford came into conflict during the early Clinton administration, when Wofford refused a personal plea by Casey to support an amendment similar to a provision in Casey's Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. Casey made it very clear that if Wofford opposed the amendment, the Governor would withhold his support in Wofford's next Senate election. Wofford supported the amendment, and was defeated in the 1994 election by upstart conservative Congressman Rick Santorum.

The footnote to this story came years after Governor Casey's death. By 2005, the Governor's son, Bob Casey, Jr., had served two terms as Auditor General and had been elected State Treasurer the year before, crushing his opponent with over 3.3 million votes. Despite the younger Casey's pro-life views, National Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, heavily recruited him to run in the 2006 election against Santorum, by now the number-three Republican in the Senate. Casey went on to win a landslide victory over Santorum.


During his second term, Casey was diagnosed with Appalachian familiar amyloidosis, a genetic condition where proteins invade and destroy bodily organs. To combat the disease, he underwent an extremely rare heart-liver transplant on the morning of June 14, 1993 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The announcement of Casey's disease was made just days before he underwent the transplant, and as a result many accused him of receiving preferential treatment with respect to donor waiting lists.

Before undergoing the operation, he transferred executive authority to Lieutenant Governor Singel, marking the first time Pennsylvania was under the leadership of an acting governor. Casey resumed his duties on December 13, 1993, almost six months to the day after he underwent the operation.

Following his operation, Casey strongly supported legislation that encouraged organ transplants by guaranteeing access to the families of potential organ donors by organ recovery organizations, providing drivers' license identification of potential donors, and establishing an organ donation trust fund from voluntary donations to promote the benefits of organ donation. Today the organ donation trust fund is named in his honor.

Post-political career

Prohibited from seeking a third term, Bob Casey left office on January 17, 1995 but contemplated a run for President to oppose Bill Clinton in the 1996 Democratic primaries. His failing health caused him to abandon his plans.

Despite the transplants, Casey continued to suffer long-term effects of his disease, to which he finally succumbed on May 30, 2000, at the age of 68. His survivors were his wife of fifty years, Ellen and his eight children Margaret, Mary Ellen, Kathleen, Bobby, Chris, Erin, Patrick and Matt. He was also survived by his 28 grandchildren and his brother John.

Casey's oldest son, Bob Casey, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps, being elected to two terms as Pennsylvania's Auditor General. In 2002 he sought the Governor's office, but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Ed Rendell. In 2005, he was sworn in as State Treasurer.

Twenty years after Casey, Sr. was elected governor of Pennsylvania, on November 7, 2006, Casey, Jr. defeated incumbent Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum.



  1. Molotsky, Irvin. "Former Gov. Robert P. Casey Dies at 68; Pennsylvania Democrat Opposed Abortion", The New York Times, May 31, 2000. Accessed May 28, 2009.
  2. Cook, Ted G. Jelen, Clyde Wilcox (1994); Ted G. Jelen, Perspectives on the politics of abortion (1995) p. 76
  3. Execution Warrants Issued by Governor (1985 to Present)
  5. Death Penalty in Pennsylvania - Statistics & History of Capital Punishment in PA
  7. Michael Crowley, "Casey Closed," The New Republic, September 16, 1996.
  8. Michael Decourcy Hinds, ‚ÄúPennsylvania; Democratic Ticket Heads Into Fertile Territory,‚ÄĚ New York Times July 19, 1992, Section 1, Page 20
  9. Michael E. Barone, The Almanac of American Politics: 2006 (2005) p 1424.

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