State Supreme Court elections: The most important, often-overlooked, races in 2022
Democrat Anita Kelly and Republican Greg Cook are running for Seat 5 on the Alabama Supreme Court, to replace retiring Republican judge Michael Bolin. Kelly has served as a circuit judge since 2004. Cook served as the General Counsel for the Alabama Republican Party and as a delegate for President Trump.
Cook has sowed doubt about the 2020 election, positioning himself as someone who will aggressively handle voter fraud accusations in Alabama:
““I believe in election law, believe in election security,” Cook said, “and after what we’ve seen in this last election it really meant a lot to me to say ‘look we need someone on the court who knows election law really well and cares about following the law, the letter of the law.”
Cook points to his experience representing the Republican party in the Bush v. Gore election mess in Florida as an implicit nod that he’ll rule in favor of conservative interests:
“I had been the lawyer for the Alabama Republican Party for many years,” he explained. “I have done a trial for them to set aside an election. I have conducted a recount to handle, cause in the primaries if there’s a recount the Party has to run the recount. I’ve been the hotline on election day for the party. If someone has a problem and they call the Republican Party they get me. I even went to Florida for the Bush Gore hanging chad fight.”
Justice Daniel Winfree is up for retention this year. A retention election is a simple up-and-down vote without challengers. However, he is going to hit the mandatory retirement age next year anyway. Whoever wins the governorship this fall will name his replacement and, so far, there is only one pro-choice candidate: Democrat Les Gara, a former lawmaker in the Alaska House of Representatives.
“Alaska will become the last line of defense for a woman’s right to choose, and to make her own private health decisions. As Governor I’ll veto anti-choice legislation. I’ll screen judicial candidates to seek ones who’ll leave their politics at the courthouse door, and who’ll follow existing Alaska court precedent protecting choice.”
Three justices of the all-Republican Arizona Supreme Court face retention elections this year: James Beene, Ann Timmer, and Bill Montgomery. Of the three, Montgomery has the most controversial record including using asset forfeiture profits to buy his prosecutor’s officer $400,000 worth of guns, allegedly covering up for prosecutorial misconduct, and violating public records laws.
Justice Robin Wynne, a former Democratic lawmaker is facing a challenge from the right by former longtime chair of the Republican Party Chris Carnahan.
Carnahan is a member of the NRA and has been endorsed by the Gun Owners of Arkansas. “Our constitution affirms our right to keep and bear arms,” he said on his Facebook page. “My grandfather’s shotgun is my most prized possession. It was passed down to me, and I will pass it on.”
That’s not to say Wynne is an ideal candidate. Most troublingly, he is credibly accused of deliberately destroying exculpatory evidence in a case in which he had sought the death penalty when he was a prosecutor. Both individuals in the case were exonerated.
Four California Supreme Court justices are up for retention election in November: Schwarzenegger-appointee Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Brown-appointee Joshua Groban, Newsom-appointee Patricia Guerrero, and Newson-appointee Martin Jenkins.
Five of the seven justices on Florida’s supreme court are up for retention this year: three Crist-appointees—Jorge Labarga, Charles Canady, and Ricky Polston—and two DeSantis-appointees—Jamie Rutland Grosshans and John D. Couriel. Theoretically, there is a chance for Democrats to reverse the far-right’s gains. In practice, though, no justice has ever lost a retention election in Florida.
Lake County Associate Judge Elizabeth Rochford (D) will face either former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran (R) or Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes (R) in November to serve as a Supreme Court judge representing the 2nd District. After redistricting in 2021, the 2nd District includes Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall, and DeKalb counties. Curran went on the record as against abortion; Shanes declined to take a stance.
In order to retain control of the state’s Supreme Court, Rochford will have to win her election and Mary Jane Theis, serving as a judge in the 1st District, will need to hold the seat in a retention election. The 1st District is made up entirely of Cook County, home of Chicago.
Alternatively, the Democratic Party could try to flip the 3rd District seat currently held by Republican Michael J. Burke. His Democratic challenger is Mary Kay O’Brien, an appellate court judge in the 3rd District and served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1996 to 2003.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, at a news conference last Friday warned the consequences for women could be dire if a Republican candidate won either the 1st or 2nd District elections in the fall, the only two scheduled partisan races.
“If we lose one of them, we can lose control of the Supreme Court here in the state of Illinois, and that means your state rights could be overturned,” Bush said. “This is a war and we are not waving the white flag.”
Two of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ appointees—Dana Oxley and Matthew McDermott—have retention elections on the ballot this year. McDermott worked as a lawyer for Reynolds and the Republican party before his appointment to the court. Both justices reversed a 2018 ruling that had protected abortion rights under the Iowa Constitution, but Oxley took a more moderate approach in abortion rights going forward, joining an opinion that stated that “[a]utonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” and that “being a parent is a life-altering obligation that falls unevenly on women in our society.” McDermott, on the hand, advocated for siding with the state in leaving abortion restrictions in place.
Six of Kansas’ seven Supreme Court justices are up for retention election this fall: four Democratic appointees—Daniel Biles, Evelyn Wilson, Keynen Wall, and Melissa Stanbridge—and two Republican appointees—Caleb Stegall and Maria Luckert.
Justice Caleb Stegall was the only judge to dissent from a 2019 decision affirming that Kansas’ Constitution Bill of Rights protects a woman’s access to abortion.
Joseph Fischer, a Republican lawmaker who has led the fight to pass abortion restrictions in the Kentucky legislature, is running to unseat Democratic-appointed justice Michelle Keller. Fischer sponsored an amendment to be put on the ballot this year that would preempt any court from legalizing abortion in the state. The proposed amendment reads: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
One judge, John Weimer, is up for election this year. Despite running as a Democrat, Weimer joined the conservative majority in a ruling that weakened First Amendment protections for protestors. No challengers have jumped in the race, yet.
One judge, Steven Gould, is up for retention election this year. Gould is an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and easily won his last retention election 86%-14%. The court currently has only one Democratic appointee.
There are two open Supreme Court seats on the ballot this year: one held by Republican Brain Zahra and one by Democrat Richard Bernstein. Democrats currently enjoy a 4-3 majority on the court. Republicans need to hold Zahra’s seat and flip Bernstein’s to regain control of the court.
Two judges, Gordon Moore and Natalie Hudson, are up for re-election with no challengers.
Two judges are up for retention elections this year: Robin Ransom (appointed by Gov. Mike Parson [R] in 2021) and Zel Fischer (Gov. Matt Blunt [R] in 2008). Fischer notably dissented from a 2021 ruling that invalidated a law meant to hobble public sector unions.
Republicans attempting to gain more control over the Montana Supreme Court are throwing their weight behind James Brown, former counsel for the state’s Republican Party, to potentially replace incumbent Ingrid Gayle Gustafson. Former Democratic Governor Steve Bullock appointed Gustafson to the court in 2017.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen has urged voters to support Brown, calling Gustafson a “hardcore leftist” who has “done a tremendous amount of damage to the judiciary and our criminal court system” by “releasing criminals back on the streets.”
Four Republican appointed justices are up for retention election this fall: Jonathan Papik, William Cassel, John Freudenberg, and Michael Heavican. Papik previously clerked for now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and wrote a 2019 opinion upholding the state’s controversial lethal injection protocol. However, Papik dissented from a 2020 opinion overruling a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state; Cassle, Freudenberg, and Heavican were in the majority.
Justice Ron Parraguirre is up for re-election in November but garnered no challengers.
Democrats currently hold all the seats on the New Mexico Supreme Court, but Republicans aim to change that with two seats up for election this year.
Democratic incumbent Julie Vargas faces Republican challenger Thomas Montoya and Democratic incumbent Briana Zamora faces Republican Kerry Morris. In a letter touting his candidacy, Morris cast Montoya and himself as “conservative voices” up against “the power of George Soros and Zucker Bucks to control elections in New Mexico.”
Another Democratic Judge, Michael Vigil, is up for a retention election this fall.
Democrats currently hold four of seven Supreme Court seats but have to defend two this fall. Sam Ervin is facing Republican challenger Trey Allen, who proclaims that “judges must follow the Constitution as originally understood.” Allen has also made Facebook posts criticizing Ervin for voting to limit the time (to 40 years) that juveniles convicted of violent crimes can spend in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
The other seat in North Carolina is open, with Democratic candidate Lucy Inman and Republican candidate Richard Dietz—both judges on the state Court of Appeals—running in November.
If Republicans succeed in flipping just one of these seats, they’ll gain control of the state Supreme Court, which has been central to voting rights cases in recent years.
Justice Daniel Crothers is running for a new 10-year term unopposed.
Ohio’s Supreme Court struck down Republican gerrymanders in a 4-3 split this year, with the three Democratic justices joined by Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. Three seats are on the ballot in November, all held by Republican justices, including O’Connor’s.
The Democrat running for O’Connor’s seat is Jennifer Brunner, who is already a justice on the court. Should she win the election, Republican Governor Mike DeWine would get to appoint her replacement. So, in order to gain control over the state’s highest court, Democratic candidates must flip two seats.
Brunner is facing another Supreme Court judge for the Chief Justice position. Sharon Kennedy was a police officer and an attorney before her 2012 election as a Republican justice despite receiving a “not recommended” rating from the Ohio Bar Association. More recently, her ethics were questioned after she spoke to a Republican organization about redistricting while the case was still under consideration by the court, making accusations against progressive groups that are parties to the case.
Republican incumbent Pat Fischer is facing Democratic challenger Terri Jamison, an appellate judge with experience as a public defender. Another Republican incumbent, Pat DeWine (son of Gov. DeWine), is being challenged by appellate judge Marilyn Zayas.
Two Democratic appointees, Douglas Combs and James Winchester, and two Republican appointees, Dustin Rowe and Dana Kuehn, are up for retention election this year. Both Rowe and Kuehn dissented from a 2021 ruling temporarily blocking anti-abortion measures, including a “fetal heartbeat” bill, from taking effect.
Justice Roger DeHoog is running unopposed this fall. DeHoog is one of the few state Supreme Court justices nationwide with public defender experience.
Two justices, Mark Salter and Patricia DeVaney, are up for retention election in November. Both ruled to invalidate a 2018 voter-approved amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.
All five justices on the state Supreme Court are up for retention election in August, including the only Democratic appointee on the bench, Sharon Lee.
Three Republican incumbents on the Texas Supreme Court are on the ballot in November. Despite Democrats’ decades-long failure to win statewide elections in the state, two of the challengers (Nowell and Reicheck) have ousted Republican incumbents in appellate court elections.
Debra Lehrmann, appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2010, is facing appellate judge Erin Nowell; Abbott-appointee Rebeca Huddle is facing appellate judge Amaand Reichek; and Abbott-appointee Scott Walker is facing municipal judge Dana Huffman.
Justice Paige Petersen is up for retention election in November.
Two progressive justices, Mary Yu and Helen Whitener, face a retention election this year after ruling with the majority that Washington’s former felony drug possession law was illegal. A third incumbent, Barbara Madsen, is also up for retention; she dissented from the drug law decision.