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Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon is a graduate of Penn Law (Photo from Mary Gay Scanlon).

As voters across the state head to the polls this November, some will have the option to re-elect former Quaker Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) into office.

Scanlon, a 1984 University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School graduate, is up for re-election for her seat in the United States House of Representatives. Ahead of election day, she spoke to The Daily Pennsylvanian about her journey into politics and the importance of the upcoming midterms.

Scanlon began her career as a lawyer before transitioning to the world of politics. She was elected to the House of Representatives in a special election in 2018, and she has served in the House ever since. She represents Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District. 

After growing up in upstate New York, Scanlon graduated from Colgate University in 1980. While a student at Penn Carey Law, Scanlon worked for the Legal Aid Clinic, which she credited for directing her towards public interest work. After graduating from Penn Law, she worked at the Education Law Center. 

While in this position, Scanlon told the DP that she was “always trying to help parents become more engaged with their school district,” which encouraged her to run for her local school board and become president.

After leaving the domain of school district politics, Scanlon worked full time as pro bono counsel for a Philadelphia-based national law firm, working on issues such as poverty, voting rights, immigration, free speech, and free press. She said she also began to do some work with Represent PA, a group that focuses on electing more women to office in Pennsylvania. 

In January 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the state's districts were unconstitutionally drawn and needed to be redrawn. In addition, the representative in Scanlon’s district Patrick Meehan resigned due to sexual harassment allegations. This encouraged Scanlon to run for office, as there was an empty seat at a time that she called the “Year of the Woman.” 

“I had not been looking to run for Congress,” Scanlon said. “But in my day job, I’d been working on immigration, voting rights, representation of women — the kinds of issues that were really front and center after the election of Trump. For all of these issues, we were looking for the federal government to be an ally, but all of a sudden, the federal government was an adversary and the laws were starting to change.” 

She said that her expertise on these issues combined with her work and connections throughout the region are what gave Scanlon the courage to run for office. Scanlon added that she is continuing her work in politics because she believes in the importance of preserving our democratic institutions, and there is more work to be done, especially regarding election integrity.

Scanlon said she is especially proud of the way she and her colleagues acted in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol in 2021.

A week after the insurrection at the Capitol, Scanlon released a statement, saying that former President Donald Trump "is a clear and present danger to our country and he must be removed from office."

“I’m proud that we came back on the night of Jan. 6 and voted to certify the election, and then that we voted to impeach the former president a second time for what he did to our country and for the lies he told us and our countrymen and women that caused them to attack the Capitol and the government and everyone who was in the building,” Scanlon said. “It’s all on the line in this election." 

Scanlon is not the only University of Pennsylvania graduate on the ballot in Pennsylvania's midterms. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) graduated from Penn Carey Law in 1986 is running for reelection as representative of Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District. Also, Penn Nursing Ph.D. student Tarik Khan is running to represent Pennsylvania's 194th District in the state legislature, after defeating the incumbent State Rep. Pam DeLissio in the Democratic primary last May.