RALEIGH, NC ( Associated Press) — Headliners Tuesday for North Carolina’s primary include challenging Republicans for an open U.S. Senate seat and hoping to give the GOP a shot at a veto-proof majority in the Legislature.
Receiving less billing, but with equal long-term political significance, is a contest that will shape the fall matchup for the two seats on the state’s Supreme Court. At stake this year is whether the court remains a majority Democrat or flips for Republican control, with the outcome of decisions on redistribution and issues championed by Democratic Gov.
It’s been a scene across the country this year, as the state judicial race continues to politicize issues like partisan gerrymandering, abortion and gun rights. This year voters from 32 states will vote on state Supreme Court seats, which have become a magnet for spending by national interest groups.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School, some $97 million was spent on state Supreme Court elections during the 2019-2020 election cycle. Conservative groups and Super PACs have historically outperformed liberal-leaning organizations in the race for state court.
The spending and publicity around the judicial race could intensify if the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade reverses what a leaked draft opinion indicates are ready to be judged.
“State courts are going to be front and center in the fight over access to abortion,” said Doug Keith, an attorney with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “These races … are likely to take prominence in some states they’ve never had before.”
Michigan is among states where abortion could be a central factor in the court race this fall. A Democratic and a Republican justice are set to be re-elected in a court where Democrats have a 4-3 majority. The races are technically non-partisan, even though candidates are nominated by political parties.
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is asking the state’s High Court to recognize abortion rights in the state’s constitution. She also wants it to declare unconstitutional the near-total abortion ban of 1931 that would go into effect if Roe was reversed.
Michigan’s court seats are among the top priorities for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which plans to spend more than $5 million on state court races this year, a record for the group, said spokesman Andrew Romeo.
The group’s other priorities include running races in North Carolina as well as Illinois and Ohio—primarily to better position Republicans in a fight to draw state legislative and congressional boundaries.
“People used to think redistribution was a 10-year battle,” Romeo said. “Now it’s going to be a fight every election cycle because every election cycle has a crucial Supreme Court race that has the potential to affect redistribution.”
Groups on the left, including the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, are also joining, although the group would not say how much it would invest in the race.
“We are already seeing Republicans attempting to rig the judicial system against fairness, especially in states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan, and we see these attempts to jeopardize the independence of state courts. Will fight back against the efforts,” Kelly Burton, committee chair, said in a statement.
The parties have fought hard over redistribution in North Carolina since the last set of maps was drawn after the 2010 census.
Voters will choose the Republican nominee for one of two seats on Tuesday’s ballot this fall, a race that is one of many drawing out money by redistributing controversy. No primaries are needed for the second seat as only one Democratic and one Republican candidate is contesting.
Earlier this year the court overruled maps for Congress and the state legislature that had been prepared by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. In its 4-3 decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court called the districts illegal partisan gerrymandering. Lawmakers will have a chance to redraw the Congressional map next year as the one used for this year’s election was approved on an interim basis, prompting Republicans to try to remove two Democratic judges this year. Got inspired.
David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, said gerrymandering isn’t the only reason the court race this fall will be important to North Carolina Democrats. Losing those seats would also be detrimental to Cooper, especially if Republicans win a veto-proof majority in the legislature, he said.
“It just puts more pressure on Democrats to try to keep those (court) seats,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Republican State Committee targeted Democratic Justice Sam Ervin IV – whose grandfather presided over the Watergate hearings in the US Senate – with an ad calling for him to pull out of the redistribution case because of a ruling election. could affect the rules. This year, when he is on the ballot. Ervin refuses to isolate himself.
Court of Appeals Judge April Wood, one of three candidates seeking the GOP nomination to oust Erwin, said on her website that she is attending to ensure a “constitutional, conservative majority” in court. A campaign video by one of his rivals, General Counsel Trey Allen of the Administrative Office of the Courts, describes him as a “conservative leader in need”. Greensboro Attorney Victoria Prince is also running in Tuesday’s primaries.
Another battleground state is Ohio, where two Republicans are defending their seats on the state’s Supreme Court. A third race pits Republican justices sitting against each other and Democratic justices for the seat of chief justice. Although Republicans hold a narrow majority in the court, Justices have repeatedly ruled 4-3 against redistributing the maps drawn by the GOP commission.
Recent elections in Arkansas have seen some of the fiercest Supreme Court races in the country. The race for two seats this year could push the court further to the right, even if the seats are officially nonpartisan. Justices Robin Wynne and Karen Baker have served as Democrats in previous offices and are facing challenges from candidates with Republican Party ties who promote their membership in the National Rifle Association.
Gunner Daley, a circuit judge and former state legislator who challenged Baker, uses his campaign website to highlight his work in the Legislature to ban abortion and solicit his support from Arkansas Right to Life.
“I think we should drop the pretense,” he said. “My history is what it is.”
District Judge Chris Carnahan, a former executive director of the state Republican Party, and attorney David Sterling, are Republicans for the seat of Wayne.
The results later this year could have implications for Congress’s redeployment case. Lawsuits pending in federal court challenge Republicans’ rescheduling of the Little Rock-area district, which opponents say undermines the influence of black voters. Opponents of the redistribution plan are fighting to take a case back to state court.
Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock who is Black, said the politicization of the court race angers her, but she still hopes there can be a fair trial in cases like the redistribution challenge.
“I don’t think my anger should be reason to believe that the court just won’t do its job,” Elliott said. “I depend on them to do my job and do it fairly.”
DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.