Key 2022 State Supreme Court Election Results and What They Mean

Twenty-five states held elections this week for his or her state supreme courts, which generally have the ultimate phrase in deciphering state legislation. Within the aftermath of Dobbs and different latest U.S. Supreme Courtroom selections which have narrowed or eradicated federal rights, state courts are more and more being known as upon to fill the void.

This consideration has reshaped judicial elections, which 38 states use as a part of their system for selecting judges. Particularly in states the place the ideological or partisan majority on a courtroom was up for grabs this 12 months, new curiosity teams acquired concerned, acquainted teams broke spending data, and teams and candidates used new messages that emphasised the rising significance of state excessive courts.

Within the overwhelming majority of states, this 12 months’s judicial elections maintained the established order, with justices getting elected or reelected with little opposition. However modifications on courts in Ohio and North Carolina may alter the authorized panorama in vital methods, whereas different supreme courtroom majorities survived regardless of vital opposition.

These are the outcomes of a few of this 12 months’s best judicial elections and their potential affect.


Democrats gained a minimum of one of many two partisan elections for the Illinois Supreme Courtroom. Decide Elizabeth Rochford (D) defeated former Sheriff Mark Curran (R), whereas Decide Mary Ok. O’Brien (D) held a slim lead over Justice Michael Burke (R) as of the time of publication with 92 p.c of precincts reporting. Justice Mary Jane Theis (D) additionally gained her retention election.

Because of this, Democrats will both keep their 4–3 majority or develop to a 5–2 majority on the courtroom — a majority they’ve held because the Seventies. In 2020, Illinois Republicans created a possibility to vie for a majority on the state excessive courtroom in 2022 by efficiently waging the costliest anti-retention election ever to unseat Justice Thomas Kilbride (D). A decrease courtroom decide, Robert Carter (D), was appointed by the state supreme courtroom on an interim foundation, with Kilbride’s seat opening for a aggressive election in 2022. Following Kilbride’s defeat, the legislature redrew the state’s judicial districts, and each of this 12 months’s elections have been seen as aggressive.

Current Illinois Supreme Courtroom decisions which have damaged down alongside partisan strains embrace rulings about pension reform, redistricting, and employees’ compensation.

The Marketing campaign

Of their campaigns, Democratic candidates and teams on the political left emphasised the function that the Illinois Supreme Courtroom could play in figuring out abortion rights within the state within the wake of Dobbs. In September, the Illinois Republican Social gathering accused O’Brien of misrepresenting Burke’s views in an ad that stated he “agreed with the choice to overturn Roe.” In 2013, the Illinois Supreme Courtroom ruled that the state structure protected abortion rights to the identical extent because the federal structure, an strategy that places these protections in query after Dobbs. Republican candidates and conservative teams, for his or her half, tried to tie Democratic candidates to Mike Madigan, the previous Illinois speaker of the home, who was indicted for bribery and racketeering this 12 months.

These elections have been possible the costliest judicial elections within the nation this 12 months, with Republican candidates receiving thousands and thousands in unbiased spending by Illinois billionaires Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein and Democratic candidates receiving thousands and thousands in unbiased help from labor unions and progressive teams in addition to massive donations from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.


Six of the seven justices on the Kansas Supreme Courtroom stood for retention elections, and voters retained all six justices, giving them every a further six-year time period. Kansas’s retention elections are nonpartisan, and justices are initially appointed through a benefit choice course of the place a judicial nominating fee vets candidates and presents a shortlist to the governor. 5 of the courtroom’s seven justices have been appointed by Democratic governors via this course of.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Courtroom dominated that the state structure protects abortion rights. Two of the justices retained this week have been within the majority in that call, and one was in dissent. (The three remaining justices have been appointed after the courtroom’s ruling.) The election adopted an August vote during which voters rejected a constitutional modification that might have successfully overturned that 2019 determination and allowed the state legislature to limit abortion rights within the state. The election additionally leaves in place the courtroom majority that this 12 months narrowly ruled that the state structure doesn’t prohibit partisan gerrymandering.

The Marketing campaign

The courtroom’s 2019 abortion determination led to backlash in opposition to a courtroom that some Kansas Republicans have accused of getting “activist judges,” whom legislators have tried to rein in via changes to the state’s judicial choice course of. Kansas marketing campaign finance legislation, which requires little reporting of spending on judicial elections, makes it unimaginable to know simply how a lot cash was spent. Nonetheless, whereas Kansans for Life, a frontrunner on this summer time’s anti-abortion modification marketing campaign, distributed mailers telling voters to vote in opposition to 5 of the six justices, there was no large-scale TV advert marketing campaign or different markings of a complete anti-retention effort like Kansas has seen in prior cycles.

An unbiased group known as Hold Kansas Courts Neutral campaigned for the retention of all six justices, operating TV ads portraying the excessive courtroom as a nonpartisan, neutral exception to different branches of presidency focused by particular pursuits and political influences.


Kentucky voters elected state supreme courtroom justices from 4 of the state’s seven districts in nonpartisan elections. Whereas retiring Chief Justice John Minton has been praised for his potential to take care of the courtroom’s nonpartisan nature, nationwide conservative teams focused two seats this 12 months in an effort to place vocal conservatives on the courtroom. That effort failed as Justice Michelle Keller and Decide Kelly Thompson defeated State Rep. Joe Fischer and lawyer Shawn Alcott, respectively. Decide Angela Bisig additionally gained her election, and Justice Christopher Nickell ran unopposed.

Voters rejected a poll initiative this week that might have added an modification to the state structure explicitly stating that it doesn’t defend abortion rights, that means that the state’s courts will resolve whether or not abortion restrictions violate the state structure. Two abortion bans — a near-total abortion ban and a six-week ban — enacted by the state this 12 months are presently being challenged earlier than the Kentucky Supreme Courtroom. The present courtroom, together with Minton, could resolve the caseearlier than the brand new justices take their seats in January. The brand new courtroom may also possible hear a serious redistricting case subsequent 12 months.

The Marketing campaign

Essentially the most contentious race occurred within the state’s sixth judicial district, the place Fischer, a vocal anti-abortion state legislator, misplaced to Keller. Fischer was supported by nationwide conservative curiosity teams, together with the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative. The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Fee, the state’s judicial disciplinary physique, investigated Fischer for doubtlessly violating the state’s code of judicial ethics by overtly campaigning as “the conservative Republican” and touting endorsements from conservative teams like Kentucky Proper to Life regardless of operating in an formally nonpartisan election. Fischer sued the fee in federal courtroom and gained an order blocking the investigation.


Incumbent Montana Supreme Courtroom Justices James Rice and Ingrid Gustafson defeated challengers in a nonpartisan election to maintain their seats on the courtroom. Gustafson confronted a robust problem from James Brown, chair of the Public Service Fee and former Montana Republican Social gathering counsel.

This 12 months’s elections couldn’t have modified the ideological majority on the courtroom, however Montana Republicans spoke about defeating Gustafson as a part of a long-term technique to win a majority on the courtroom. In September, she joined a slim majority to quickly block a newly handed restrictive voting legislation, whereas Rice dissented. In August, the courtroom unanimously upheld a decrease courtroom determination quickly blocking new abortion restrictions. Each of these circumstances are prone to come earlier than the courtroom once more.

The Marketing campaign

The race between Gustafson and Brown was the most expensive judicial election within the state’s historical past, with greater than $1.5 million spent independently by curiosity teams. Conservative teams invested closely to help Brown, who identified as a “constitutional conservative” and said that Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte requested him to run for the seat. Adverts by each Brown and supportive teams attacked Gustafson as unethical and anti-business and sought to tie her to President Biden. Progressive teams spent lower than their counterparts, however some attacked Brown for elevating utility charges on the Public Service Fee, and others emphasised the significance of the race for abortion access in Montana.


Justice Richard Bernstein, nominated by the Democratic Social gathering, and Justice Brian Zahra, nominated by the Republican Social gathering, each gained reelection to the Michigan Supreme Courtroom. They defeated Democratic State Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden and Republican-nominated lawyer Paul Hudson. Elections to the Michigan Supreme Courtroom are nonpartisan, however candidates are nominated by political events. Because of this, the courtroom will proceed to have a 4–3 Democratic majority.

The Michigan Supreme Courtroom has issued a number of vital democracy-related rulings just lately, a lot of which haven’t damaged down alongside occasion strains. Earlier this 12 months, for instance, the courtroom dismissed two challenges from voters and Democratic lawmakers to legislative maps drawn by the state’s unbiased redistricting fee. In every of these selections, one 5–2 and the opposite 4–3, Democratic and Republican justices joined collectively to type the majorities and dissents. In September, the courtroom voted 5–2, with one Republican becoming a member of the bulk, to permit on the poll an modification that might enshrine abortion rights within the Michigan Structure (voters authorised that modification). Further challenges to statutes limiting abortion are making their way via decrease courts and could also be heard by the Michigan Supreme Courtroom this 12 months.

Notably, Harris Bolden would have been the primary Black girl to serve on the Michigan Supreme Courtroom, which has had no justices of colour since 2018.

The Marketing campaign

Abortion didn’t function as prominently within the marketing campaign for the Michigan Supreme Courtroom because it did in another states the place courtroom majorities have been additionally at stake. Of their TV adverts, Democratic candidates and teams supporting these candidates highlighted the varied views that Kyra Harris Bolden would have delivered to the bench as the primary Black girl to serve on the Michigan Supreme Courtroom and that Justice Richard Bernstein has delivered to the courtroom because the state’s first blind justice. One progressive curiosity group ad accused Justice Brian Zahra of “standing with extremists” in opposition to abortion rights, referencing his dissenting vote within the excessive courtroom’s determination to permit the abortion modification on the poll.

As in Michigan’s 2020 supreme courtroom election, teams supporting the Democratic candidates seem to have spent considerably greater than conservative teams spent supporting Zahra and Hudson.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Trey Allen (R) and Decide Richard Dietz (R) defeated Decide Lucy Inman (D) and Justice Sam Ervin (D) for 2 seats on the North Carolina Supreme Courtroom. Because of this, the partisan majority on the courtroom will flip from 4–3 Democratic to five–2 Republican. North Carolina judicial candidates used to run in nonpartisan campaigns, however in 2017, the state legislature handed a brand new legislation requiring candidates to run in partisan primaries and have occasion affiliations on the poll. Since then, Republican candidates have gained 5 of six races, defeating three incumbent justices.

This North Carolina Supreme Courtroom election was one of the anticipated this 12 months after a collection of 4–3 selections that struck down congressional and legislative maps as partisan gerrymanders violating the state structure, extended constitutional protections for defendants in prison circumstances, and ruled that when a legislature’s composition is the results of an unlawful gerrymander, courts can invalidate any legal guidelines handed by that legislature that undermine democratic accountability. In one other 4–3 decision issued simply final week, the courtroom ordered the state to switch funds to its public training system as a result of the state legislature’s insufficient funding of public faculties violates the state structure.

Earlier than the bulk modifications palms, the excessive courtroom will possible problem a choice in an already argued problem to a new voter ID requirement, and the brand new majority is prone to hear challenges to the state’s abortion restrictions and prohibitions on voting by individuals with felony convictions.

The Marketing campaign

Candidates and curiosity teams on each side spent thousands and thousands in North Carolina’s supreme courtroom elections, making them among the costliest judicial races this 12 months. Curiosity teams’ adverts supporting the Democratic candidates centered on abortion rights, asserting that if Republicans have been to carry the bulk on the state supreme courtroom, abortions could be criminalized. Conservative teams portrayed Inman and Ervin as “gentle on crime,” pointing to selections from their time on the bench that benefited defendants in prison circumstances.


Three seats on the Ohio Supreme Courtroom have been up in aggressive partisan elections, together with a race for chief justice, and Republican candidates won all three. Justice Pat DeWine and Justice Pat Fischer gained reelection, whereas Justice Sharon Kennedy defeated Justice Jennifer Brunner (D) within the race for chief justice. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) will appoint somebody to fill the emptiness created by Kennedy’s elevation to chief justice. Social gathering labels appeared subsequent to supreme courtroom candidates’ names on the poll for the primary time after the state legislature modified the legislation final 12 months.

These outcomes keep the partisan steadiness on the excessive courtroom however could end in a big shift in outcomes. At present, the courtroom has a 4–3 Republican majority, however the retiring Republican chief justice had shaped a majority with the three Democratic justices in high-profile selections, together with one which rejected legislative and congressional maps for violating new state constitutional provisions prohibiting partisan gerrymandering and one other that limited the usage of bail. (The Brennan Middle is representing the plaintiffs in one of many lawsuits difficult Ohio’s legislative maps.) Justice Kennedy, the incoming chief justice, dissented from these selections. Along with redistricting, subsequent 12 months, the courtroom may also possible hear challenges to the state’s six-week abortion ban.

The Marketing campaign

With the partisan majority on the courtroom at stake, conservative and progressive curiosity teams spent vital sums within the race. Teams supporting the Democratic candidates emphasized the probability that the Ohio Supreme Courtroom will problem a serious determination about abortion rights. Professional-choice teams additionally accused the three Republican candidates of violating the state’s judicial ethics code by asserting that the Ohio Structure doesn’t present a proper to abortion in a judicial candidate survey performed by Cincinnati Proper to Life.

In the meantime, Republican candidates and organizations criticized the Democratic candidates for being “gentle on crime,” calling out the courtroom’s bail determination particularly. The Ohio State Bar Affiliation called for one such advert to be taken down, saying it “serve[d] to erode public belief and confidence within the judiciary.” The advert in query was funded by the Republican State Management Committee, a nationwide group that pledged to spend a minimum of $2 million on the Ohio Supreme Courtroom race.