(CTN News) – Beyond the presidential race and the fight for congressional control in 2024, there will be a slew of other races that are shaping up to be just as important.
There will be 80 races for state supreme court seats in 33 states next year, and important fights will be fought over gerrymandering, voting rights, abortion, and other issues.
These elections have the potential to be the most expensive and contentious in the United States since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which removed the constitutional right to abortion, off the ballot.
According to Douglas Keith, senior counsel in the judiciary program at the Brennan Center for Justice, who tracks spending in judicial contests, the decision brought the abortion debate to the states and ushered in a “new era” in state supreme court elections.
State supreme court elections have received unprecedented funding and media coverage, according to Keith.
As a taste of what to expect in 2024, Democrats prevailed in heated court contests in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2023 and spent tens of millions of dollars on television commercials. They are also encouraging organizations to think about investing in states where they weren’t before.
According to the Brennan Center, there have been a total of 38 lawsuits filed challenging abortion bans in 23 states. The highest courts in each state are likely to hear a number of these cases.
Legal challenges to abortion restrictions are being closely monitored by the American Civil Liberties Union in the following states: Montana, Wyoming, Ohio, Utah, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Nebraska, and Georgia.
“State courts and state constitutions were the critical backstop to protecting access to abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned,” stated Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Every one of these lawsuits in every one of these states has ridiculously high stakes.
Among the several groups that spent heavily in support of Democratic candidates for state supreme court in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania this year was the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has also been active in recent court races, despite its stated primary interest in redistricting. State supreme courts were hailed as the “last line of defense against far-left national groups,” according to the group. However, details regarding their funding plans and target states for next year’s elections remain unknown.
State supreme court contests in Ohio are likely to be framed by Democrats as a continuation of the November election, when voters codified the right to abortion in the state constitution. Now that the amendment is in place, the state’s more than 30 limitations on abortion could be challenged.
Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights adviser and law professor Jessie Hill stated, “The state supreme court is going to be the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the new constitutional amendment that the people voted for and organized around.” (1993). I am astounded by the magnitude of that power.
Republicans will want to expand their control of the court, while Democrats have a chance to switch the majority. Three seats are up for vote, and the current Republican majority is 4-3.
Hill stated that the “very high-stakes election” will be another gauge of the abortion issue’s impact on voter turnout.
“We witnessed a remarkable surge in participation for that amendment and a tremendous outlay of resources for those campaigns,” Hill chimed in. “I believe that next year, Ohio will also witness a comparable level of focus and funding.”
According to David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, redistricting is expected to play a significant role in the state’s supreme court races. This is because the court has been politically realigned since it issued a series of rulings finding Ohio’s congressional and legislative maps unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. He estimates that the campaigns will cost millions of dollars.
“These races are simply so utterly consequential in very tangible, practical ways that touch voters’ everyday lives,” he said, adding that the topic of such elections is rarely discussed.
Potentially relevant in North Carolina are pending litigation involving legislative and congressional redistricting.
The North Carolina Republican Party is aiming to increase its majority in the state court, which it took over from the Democrats in the 2022 election. After the court’s balance shifted to the GOP in 2023, it reversed its earlier decisions that had invalidated a photo voter identification legislation passed in 2018 and legislative and congressional district boundaries for the state.
Both parties are likely to direct their attention to Michigan, the site of the state Supreme Court’s 4-3 Democratic majority. Even though they are nominated by political parties, candidates do not have their political affiliations printed on the ballot.
At the ballot box in 2024 will be two sitting officials, one a Democrat and one a Republican. Despite a liberal group’s efforts to have former President Donald Trump removed off the state’s ballot, the court recently upheld his inclusion. At the moment, it is considering a prominent case involving a Republican legislative move that undermined a voter-supported minimum wage increase.
A 4-3 majority for Democrats was achieved in the 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, which was largely influenced by abortion. The campaign broke all prior national records for expenditure on state supreme court elections.
Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who leans liberal, defeated Dan Kelly, a longtime Republican and supporter of the state’s most prominent anti-abortion organizations.
This year, Republicans threatened to impeach Protasiewicz over remarks she made on the campaign trail regarding redistricting, claiming that she had already decided on a case involving the state’s severely gerrymandered parliamentary districts.
Many state supreme court campaigns have become more political due to the increased spending and media attention, according to experts. This dispute is a prime example of this trend.
Following a race in which tens of millions of dollars were spent, the Democratic majority in Pennsylvania’s court was expanded. Dan McCaffery, a Democrat, was able to secure victory by casting himself as an outspoken advocate for abortion rights.