Home New mexico state After Roe, state Supreme Court races raise the stakes for voters

After Roe, state Supreme Court races raise the stakes for voters

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Mary Kay O’Brien had been working for a year to build interest in her campaign for the Illinois Supreme Court, struggling to convince voters it would affect them the way a race for president or governor would.

But “within 24 hours” of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end federal protections for abortions, levels of interest in court races like his have skyrocketed, O’Brien said. , Democratic appellate judge.

“There is no doubt that it has energized and mobilized, especially young people and women, she said. “It’s something that I think was just a complete wake-up call for some people.”

Throughout the country, the Dobbs The ruling drew attention to the power of state court systems, turning once sleepy races into high-energy elections that could bring out voters focused on abortion and other civil rights issues, candidates said. , legal experts and party officials. Even where abortion has not yet been listed since the fall of Roe vs. Wadethe courts make decisions on burning issues, from gerrymandering to affirmative action.

In Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina, which have partisan elections for the state Supreme Court, this year’s races could determine which party controls the state’s highest court, according to the University of Virginia. Policy Center. They are among 30 states holding state supreme court elections this year, with 85 ballot seats, according to a Ballotpedia databasealthough many of these are nonpartisan races or elections to retain a sitting judge, such as in Kansas.

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In the nine states that hold partisan elections for the state Supreme Court, candidates are not allowed to indicate how they would rule on a specific case or issue. Instead, they rely on highlighting the types of cases they could adjudicate on if elected or on interest in the justice system in general, which has become easier since Dobbssaid the candidates.

“As soon as you say you’re on the state Supreme Court, they’re suddenly very interested in my election and usually don’t get past me and get irritated, which they might have done before,” said Briana Zamora, a New Mexico. The state Supreme Court justice is running to retain her seat. “They are very interested in learning more about the impact we as the state’s supreme court have on their rights.”

Zamora added that Democratic county chairmen in New Mexico are holding rallies and canvassing events specific to judicial nominees for the first time.

In recent years, issues such as abortion and gun control have made judicial elections more political and polarizing, said Richard Briffault, election law expert and professor at Columbia Law School.

“I guess it’s a combination of the 2020 election and all the attention to election decisions, and now deer and Dobbs and maybe stuff on gun control legislation, where the Supreme Court put it in the news, so you’re likely to see it challenged in state elections,” Briffault said.

Even before Dobbsstate court races were attracting more money, with the 2019-20 election cycle setting a record $97 million spent on state court elections nationwide, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

“States that contested elections are going to see a ton of money coming in,” said Billy Corriher, an author who focuses on state courts and judicial independence.

A judge’s political affiliation isn’t always indicative of how he will govern — the Republican-led Ohio Supreme Court struck down a GOP-drawn map of Congress as gerrymandered earlier this year — but elections are increasingly attracting the attention of partisan groups.

The Republican State Legislative Committee, which typically backs legislative candidates, is pledging more than $5 million for state court races this year — a record — though most are focused on states where redistricting is a problem, according to its spokesman, Andrew Romeo.

Its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, plans to endorse judicial candidates for the first time this election cycle, spokeswoman Gabrielle Chew said.

“Our primary focus remains state legislatures, but we know that state supreme courts wield enormous power over state laws like abortion access, redistricting maps, and election implementation,” Chew said in a statement. “Like state legislatures, Democrats have historically ignored them to their detriment. Here at DLCC, we seek to change that.

In Illinois, a group of progressive political operatives launched an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the state Supreme Court race last month, according to co-founder Terry Cosgrove.

Democrats, in particular, see state Supreme Court races as a way to surface supporters if they can convince them that the races could have a direct effect on their abortion rights. In Kansas, a referendum to remove abortion protections from the state constitution failed in the face of surprisingly high turnout, including from independents and Republicans.

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Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the party will try to convince Texas voters that supporting Democratic judges will achieve a “much faster result” in protecting abortion rights, instead of instead of trying to end the filibuster and pass a federal guarantee in the US Senate. for example.

Hinojosa said he hoped for a repeat of 2018, when Democrats defeated 19 Republican incumbents on state appeals courts, giving the party a majority on half of the state’s 14 appeals courts.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi said in a statement that GOP enthusiasm for court races was already high before Dobbspointing to a record number of applications for judicial office and a high turnout in the March primary.

“As the United States Supreme Court continues to scale back liberal policies and return to government in accordance with the Constitution, we anticipate even stronger enthusiasm for our judicial nominees,” Rinaldi added.

In Fannin County, Texas, which voted for Trump by 63 points in 2018, Erin Nowell said she heard from a group of older white women who were upset and remembered their past experiences.deer at a recent club meeting.

“It affects so many people that these low-propensity voters are more energetic,” said the Texas Supreme Court nominee appeals judge as a Democrat. “They have a reason why, hey, that’s why you have to come and vote, and so we see more energy and more motivation and more people who could have stayed seated.”

Michigan State Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D), a state Supreme Court nominee, is nine months pregnant, which she has made a focal point of her campaign.

“I think I get more pregnancy questions than issues questions,” she said. “I want people to feel like they have something to vote for and not just against, and to be excited to vote and excited to vote for me.”

New Mexico Democratic Party Chairwoman Jessica Velasquez said it had been difficult in the past to find volunteers to knock on the doors of judicial candidates, but the Dobbs decision “really ignited our base here.”

“When I talk to donors on the phone, the judiciary comes up in almost every conversation, and that’s something brand new,” Velasquez said, adding that county party organizers are holding campaign events specific to the justice in response to enthusiasm. .

Thomas Montoya, an Albuquerque attorney running for New Mexico’s Supreme Court as a Republican, said he expects to receive more questions about abortion in the coming months thanks to Dobbsbut plans to make it clear to voters that he would not take a position on such an issue without first hearing the facts of a case.

“The Supreme Court is not a legislative body, as Dobbs pointed out, nor should it be,” Montoya said. “So if someone were to make a political decision seeking a judicial role, that’s a clear disqualification – we don’t decide political matters.”

North Carolina has been plagued by legal battles over state congressional cards, with disputes playing out in its courts over partisan gerrymandering. In February, the state Supreme Court struck down the redistricting maps and ordered the legislature to redraw them, a dispute that delayed North Carolina’s primary election.

The Democrats hold a very slim 4-3 majority in the high court, and the deer and Dobbs decisions raised the stakes for the November race.

Shortly after Supreme Court overturned deer, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) signed an executive order ensuring residents of the state could access an abortion, which is still legal there. North Carolina has been inundated with people traveling there to receive legal abortions, local media have reported.

Republicans in the GOP-led state legislature did not plan to pursue abortion legislation this year because Cooper would veto the laws passed, but the two seats up for grabs on the US Supreme Court state this year could give the Republicans a majority.

“So reproductive rights may not be on the list of candidates, but it’s on the ballot in so many states right now,” Corriher said.

While there are discussions about the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, they haven’t dominated campaign conversations for the state’s GOP, said party chairman Michael Whatley.

Whatley said the state’s biggest issues are inflation, gas prices and the southern border. He added that the party has been focused on fundraising for its Court Victory Fund, while remaining on “high alert” for recent Supreme Court rulings.

“Fortunately, we had already built this device and were ready to go when the decisions were made,” Whatley said.

On the ground, judicial candidates are seeing more grassroots engagement and enthusiasm with their campaigns ahead of the November races, where important issues such as abortion could be at stake.

“We’re in the middle of summer parade season – normally when we show up in previous cycles the judges are kind of at the back of the pack,” said Brian Morris, who is leading the Democrats’ efforts. of New Mexico on court races. “Judges are front and center now.”