AP

State Supreme Court wins shaped by abortion, redistricting

Nov 12, 2022, 9:08 AM | Updated: 9:50 am

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republicans have claimed key victories in state Supreme Court races that will give them an advantage in major redistricting fights, while Democrats notched similarly significant wins with help from groups focused on defending abortion access.

The expensive fights over court control in several states in Tuesday’s election highlight just how partisan the formerly low-key judicial races have become. Observers say they’re a sign of what to expect as legal battles over abortion, voting rights and other issues are being fought at the state level.

“Nothing about this election suggests to me that we’re going to see these races quiet down anytime soon,” said Douglas Keith, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, which tracks spending in judicial races.

About $97 million was spent on state Supreme Court elections during the 2019-2020 election cycle, according to the Brennan Center. Once this year’s numbers are tallied, spending records are expected to be shattered in some of the 25 states that had races targeted by groups on the right and the left.

One of the biggest players was the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focused heavily on the court races in North Carolina and Ohio.

“Republican wins in the Tarheel State and Buckeye State ensure that the redistricting fights ahead in those states within the next decade are ruled on by strong conservatives who will follow the Constitution and don’t believe it’s their role to draw maps from the bench,” said Dee Duncan, president of the committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative.

North Carolina’s court flipped from a 4-3 Democrat majority to 5-2 Republican Tuesday night. The court in recent years has issued decisions favoring the Democratic majority in cases involving redistricting, criminal justice, education funding and voter ID laws.

At least $15 million was spent on those races, with more than $8 million from two super PACS — one on the left that focused primarily on abortion and one on the right that focused on crime. Despite the outside groups’ involvement, candidates ran on a similar platform of keeping personal politics out of the courtroom.

“Now, we’ll be watching to make sure that the justices sitting in those seats follow through on those promises,” said Ann Webb, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

In Ohio, Republicans maintained their 4-3 majority on the court, with two GOP justices fending off challenges and a sitting Republican winning her bid for chief justice. The state’s GOP governor, Mike DeWine, will appoint a justice to fill the resulting vacancy.

The results may expand the conservative bent of the court even further, with cases regarding the state’s six-week abortion ban and redistricting on the horizon. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who did not seek reelection, has sided with court’s three Democrats on high profile cases.

But Democratic groups working to protect abortion rights ramped up efforts to defend seats after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and saw victories in several other parts of the country.

In Illinois, which is surrounded by states with abortion bans that took effect after Roe was overturned, groups pushing to retain the state’s Democrat court majority had warned a GOP takeover could result in similar threats to access.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t think abortion was the critical issue in these races,” Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of Personal PAC, an abortion rights group that spent nearly $3 million supporting the Democrats in the races.

In Michigan, Democrats maintained their 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court after incumbent justices from opposing parties who had split on a key abortion ruling won reelection. Michigan’s high court races are officially nonpartisan, though the state’s political parties nominate candidates.

Democratic-backed Justice Richard Bernstein, who voted with the court’s majority to put an abortion rights amendment on the ballot, won reelection along with Republican Justice Brian Zahra, who voted against it. Voters approved the measure Tuesday.

“The Michigan Supreme Court election was critical especially since we didn’t know what the status of (the abortion rights amendment) would be,” said Ashlea Phenicie, communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which spent nearly $1 million on the races.

Kansas voters kept all six state Supreme Court justices who were on the ballot for separate yes-or-no votes on whether they remained on the bench another six years. The state’s most influential anti-abortion group, Kansans for Life, pushed to remove five of them, largely over the court’s 2019 decision declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the Kansas Constitution.

Two of the six court members on the ballot were part of the 6-1 majority in that 2019 decision. Voters also retained the court’s most conservative member, the only dissenter in the 2019 abortion decision.

Republican bids for court seats failed in even some of the most conservative parts of the country.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller defeated Joseph Fischer, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored the state’s “trigger law” ending abortion following Roe’s reversal. Fischer also was the lead sponsor of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment that voters rejected Tuesday.

Supreme Court Justice Robin Wynne in Arkansas, which has had some of the most contentious judicial races over the years, fended off a challenge from District Judge Chris Carnahan, a former executive director of the state Republican Party.

Arkansas’ court seats are nonpartisan, but Carnahan had touted himself as a conservative and had the endorsement of the state GOP. A group formed by a Republican lawmaker ran TV ads calling Wynne, who served as a Democrat in the state Legislature in the 1980s, a liberal.

An unprecedented partisan pitch by Montana Republicans to install a party loyalist on that state’s Supreme Court also fell short, with Justice Ingrid Gustafson defeating challenger James Brown, who had the backing of Gov. Greg Gianforte and other top Republicans. The unusually expensive campaign came as the court is preparing to hear challenges over Montana’s abortion restrictions and voting access.

Gustafson called her win a sign that voters were more interested in experience than ideology.

“The people in Montana think our judiciary is doing a good job and it is a very, very small minority that has some sort of other agenda,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky; Ed White in Detroit, Michigan; and Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Montana contributed to this report. ___ Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

1 day ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

3 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

10 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

11 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

12 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

State Supreme Court wins shaped by abortion, redistricting