As both Daily Kos Elections and Bolts Magazine's Daniel Nichanian have previously noted, the most competitive and far-reaching elections are taking place in four large states where either partisan control over the court, the fate of partisan gerrymandering, or both are at stake: Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio. Should Republicans prevail, congressional redistricting could become even more unfairly tilted toward the GOP nationwide than it already is, while Democratic wins would help preserve the status quo.
Note that election methods for state supreme court justices vary widely. Many are appointed to the bench and later face "retention" elections in which voters are presented with a simple yes or no choice on keeping the incumbent in office, a system that overwhelmingly sees justices hold on to their seats. Other states, though, hold more typical head-to-head elections between two or more candidates. Many of these elections are nonpartisan, but a handful of states feature partisan elections, an approach that invariably leads to the most hotly contested and fiercely polarized races.
Illinois (4-3 Democratic): Republicans could gain a majority on Illinois' top court if they hold one key seat and flip another held by Democrats. Those two races are partisan contests because they don't feature a previously elected incumbent (two other retention elections will also take place). While Democrats redrew the map in 2021 to remedy decades of malapportionment, the two districts that will decide the majority still lean to the right of the state as a whole, which Joe Biden carried 57-40.
Unusually, Illinois elects its justices by district rather than statewide. The open 2nd District would have backed Biden by 56-42 and will see Democrat Elizabeth Rochford face the winner of the still-uncalled June 28 GOP primary, which Republican Mark Curran presently leads. The 3rd District, meanwhile, would have supported Biden by a closer 53-45 spread and will see appointed GOP Justice Michael Burke face Democrat Mary O'Brien.
If Republicans win both contests, they could strike down Democrats' congressional gerrymander, which would shift the national map even more toward the right, since the GOP has drawn many more districts than Democrats nationwide. They could also implement new legislative maps that could see Republicans gain majorities with a minority of the vote. However, with Democrats all but certain to retain control of the legislature this fall, and likely the governorship as well, abortion rights for now are not under threat in Illinois.
Michigan (4-3 Democratic): Michigan court races are nominally nonpartisan, with voters in 2022 getting to cast two votes each and the top two finishers winning, but candidates are formally nominated at party conventions that will take place in August. However, both parties already issued endorsements at an earlier gathering in April. As a result, Justice Richard Bernstein will be joined by state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden on the Democratic ticket, while Republicans will put forth Justice Brian Zahra and attorney Paul Hudson.
Michigan's high court could play a pivotal role in protecting abortion rights this fall. Litigation remains ongoing over a 1931 statutory ban on the procedure, which abortion supporters have sued to block from coming back into effect now that Roe has been overturned. Activists are also seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would be subject to court interpretation should it pass. The court could further find itself involved in future election law disputes heading into the 2024 presidential election cycle in this key swing state.
North Carolina (4-3 Democratic): Democrats are defending a tenuous majority in this fall's partisan contests, which will see Democratic Justice Sam Ervin face off against Republican Trey Allen, while Democrat Lucy Inman will go up against Republican Richard Dietz for a Democratic-held open seat. Republicans only need to win either race to take back control of the court after six years in the minority.
North Carolina has been ground zero for the most extreme GOP gerrymandering over the last decade, and this year's races could determine whether Republicans can revive their aggressive gerrymander that the courts blocked earlier this year. As for abortion, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed many restrictions passed by the Republican-dominated legislature, but if Democrats can't hold his post when he's termed-out in 2024, the state Supreme Court could loom large.
Ohio (4-3 Republican): While Republicans hold a slim majority on Ohio's top court, GOP Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor has sided with her three Democratic colleagues to repeatedly strike down the GOP's gerrymanders by enforcing two constitutional amendments approved by voters last decade. Republicans, however, were able to effectively run out the clock for 2022 while litigation remains ongoing, and they're hoping for a more favorable lineup next year. Age limits prevent O'Connor from seeking re-election this fall, when her seat and those of two other Republicans will go before voters in partisan elections, setting up a high-stakes battle for control over redistricting
Complicating matters, the race to fill O'Connor's seat is taking place between two incumbents whose seats aren't up this fall, Democratic Justice Jennifer Brunner and Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is a heavy favorite for re-election and could appoint the replacement for whichever associate justice wins that contest, meaning Democrats would have to win one of the other two races to gain a 4-3 majority and hold the line against gerrymandering. Those two races are taking place between GOP Justice Pat Fischer and Democrat Terri Jamison for one seat and Republican Justice Pat DeWine, who is the governor's son, and Democrat Marilyn Zayas for the other.
Should Democrats manage to gain control of the court, it could also rule more favorably on abortion: Just days ago, it declined an emergency motion brought by the ACLU that sought to block the state's six-week ban from taking effect.
As the legal landscape over abortion rights following the reversal of Roe unfolds, judicial elections in several other states could be no less consequential. As law professor Quinn Yeargain explains in a comprehensive article examining abortion rights in every state constitution, a small number of supreme courts have recognized a right to an abortion under their state constitutions. And while most have not, they could be called upon to do so one day.
One state where the courts have enshrined abortion rights is Montana, where Republicans are trying to gain greater influence on the bench this fall. Currently, this nonpartisan court has three progressive-leaning justices, two conservatives, and two swing justices. One Democratic appointee, swing Justice Ingrid Gustafson, is seeking another term against Republican-backed challenger Jim Brown, while Republican appointee James Rice is running for re-election against first-time candidate Bill D'Alton, whose ideological leanings are less clear. Republicans have also placed a measure on November's ballot that would effectively gerrymander the court by electing its members using districts that would be drawn by GOP legislators, rather than statewide as it is now.
Court elections could also become a focal point in Kansas depending on whether voters on Aug. 2 approve a GOP-backed amendment that would remove the right to abortion from the state constitution. If abortion rights supporters prevail, opponents could nonetheless seek to oust several of the justices on the supreme court, which in 2019 ruled that the state constitution does indeed guarantee abortion rights. Currently, five of the court's seven members were appointed by Democratic governors, but six seats will be up in November (only Democratic appointee Eric Rosen doesn't face voters this fall). However, these are all retention elections where incumbents will be tough to oust.
The second fundraising quarter of the year, covering the period of April 1 through June 30, has come to an end, and federal candidates will have to file campaign finance reports with the FEC by July 15. But as per usual, campaigns with strong hauls are leaking numbers early, which we've gathered below.
MI-07: Elissa Slotkin (D-inc): $1.5 million raised, $6.5 million cash-on-hand
NY-10: Daniel Goldman (D): $1.2 million raised (in one month)
● MO-Sen: State Attorney General Eric Schmitt is reportedly spending $650,000 to air a new ad in which he calls Joe Biden "a total disaster" and promises to "tak[e] my blowtorch to his socialist agenda." As he speaks, he ignites a jumbo blowtorch that's longer than his torso and crows about fighting Biden's border policies and "Fauci's COVID mandates" while siding with Donald Trump "to stop election fraud." Each topic also appears in a chyron accompanied by a billowing fireball.
● GA-Gov: Stacey Abrams' latest campaign ad didn't run on television, radio, or even the internet: Rather, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, it appeared on 5,500 gas station pumps across the state as the Fourth of July holiday weekend began, focusing on her call to suspend Georgia's gas tax for the rest of the year. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has resisted Abrams' demand, even though he's twice extended a temporary suspension that passed the legislature with bipartisan support earlier this year.
● TX-Gov: A new YouGov poll for CBS News shows Republican Gov. Greg Abbott leading former Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke 49-41, which is similar to the margins YouGov has found on behalf of other clients this year. Most recently, an April poll for the University of Texas had Abbott up 48-37, while a month earlier, a survey for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation put Abbott ahead 50-42.
● IL-06: Former Rep. Dan Lipinski, who lost to Rep. Marie Newman in the Democratic primary in 2020, says he's considering a comeback bid as an independent. Such a campaign would not pit him against Newman in his old 3rd District but rather Rep. Sean Casten, who defeated Newman in last month's primary for the new 6th District, a seat in the Chicago suburbs that Joe Biden would have carried 55-44.
To get on the November ballot, Lipinski would have to submit 5,000 signatures by Monday, and in a new op-ed he penned in the Chicago Tribune, he made it sound as though such an effort is in fact underway. However, the conservative Lipinski, who was one of the very last House Democrats to oppose abortion, also suggested that he might take a pass entirely, saying he was weighing whether to "run now, or in two years, or find other ways to contribute to the fight to set our country on a better path." Republicans are running Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, who has raised little.
● IL-13: Just before the holiday weekend, the AP called the GOP primary in Illinois' open 13th Congressional District for activist Regan Deering, who defeated former federal prosecutor Jesse Reising 35-33. Deering will now face off against former Biden administration official Nikki Budzinski for a seat in downstate Illinois that would have backed Joe Biden 54-43.
● MD-04: Two rival pro-Israel groups with very different philosophies have amped up their spending in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open 4th Congressional District, which is two weeks away. The hawkish AIPAC has now spent $3.1 million to thwart former Rep. Donna Edwards' comeback bid, while the progressive J Street just announced a $660,000 TV and digital campaign to boost Edwards and oppose former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey.
● NY-19 (special): An internal poll for Democrat Pat Ryan of the Aug. 23 special election for New York's vacant 19th Congressional District finds Ryan trailing Republican Marc Molinaro by a close 43-40 margin. The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling in the days after the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, also argues that Ryan would jump into the lead based on messaging around Molinaro's opposition to abortion rights. Molinaro allies recently released very different numbers of their own that showed the Republican up 52-38, but that poll was taken prior to Dobbs.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.