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The State Supreme Court Skirmishes


— State supreme court elections are often ignored by the public and the media, but they can have a dramatic impact on public policy, especially in the post-Roe v. Wade era, when abortion policy is being sent back to the states.

— Numerically, 2024 is a very big year for such elections: They will be held in 33 states. And in several of those states, ideological control of the court could shift depending on the results.

— This year, Michigan, Ohio, Montana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, and Florida will be home to some of the most consequential supreme court elections.

This year’s state Supreme Court contests

State supreme court elections are often ignored by the public and the media, typically overshadowed by presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections, as well as high-profile ballot measures. But they can have a dramatic impact on public policy, especially in the post-Roe v. Wade era, when abortion policy is being sent back to the states.

As it happens, 2024 is a very big year for such elections. They will be held in 33 states, and in several, ideological control of the court could shift depending on the results. While I am generally looking ahead to November here, one notable state supreme court election is actually coming up next week in Georgia, as former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow is seeking to unseat a justice appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Andrew Pinson. And perhaps the most important state supreme court race on the horizon is not until 2025, when ideological control of the important state supreme court in Wisconsin will again be decided (more on both the Georgia and Wisconsin races are below).

This is my first assessment of state supreme court elections this cycle; it’s something I have done during the 2020 and 2022 cycles, and that I have undertaken for other publications in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Carah Ong Whaley also wrote about state Supreme Court races for the Crystal Ball early last year.

In 2024, some of the most hotly contested supreme court contests will be held in a pair of big Midwestern states, Michigan and Ohio, where partisan control of the court is at least mathematically at stake. In both states, abortion has been a big issue, with voters approving pro-abortion-rights ballot measures in the past two years.

Several other states that have experienced battles over abortion will be home to notable supreme court races this fall, including Arizona, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Kentucky, although it remains to be seen how much of an energizing factor abortion will be for Democrats, either overall or for judicial races specifically.

According to Ballotpedia’s indispensable index of state supreme court races, 2024 has 83 state supreme court races on tap (plus 222 races for lower appeals courts, which I will not cover in this article).

I’ve broken this year’s supreme court races into a few categories, based on the type of contest.

The biggest distinction is between conventional elections (in which candidates, either with partisan labels or without, run for a seat on the court) and retention elections (in which voters are asked, in a yes or no question, whether a justice should remain on the court). We’ve also noted races in which justices have to run for reelection but are unopposed and thus are assured of winning. In general, incumbent reelection rates are high in state supreme court races, and that’s especially true for retention elections.

I interviewed observers in most of these states to gauge the competitiveness and importance of these contests. Finally, a special hat tip to Daniel Nichanian, who has produced his own indispensable guide to supreme court elections for Bolts magazine.

Now, for our state-by-state analysis.

High-impact contested races

Five states (Michigan, Ohio, Montana, North Carolina and Kentucky) have competitive supreme court elections this year with results that could shift the court’s ideological balance, at least to a degree. Here’s a rundown.


Michigan has an unusual system for choosing supreme court justices: They are nominated by party, but they are put on the general election ballot without a party affiliation listed. In 2022, one Democratic incumbent and one Republican incumbent won, ratifying the state’s existing, 4-3 Democratic edge on the court.

This year, Democratic appointee Kyra Harris Bolden is seeking to remain on the court, while Republican David Viviano is retiring. Theoretically, Republicans could flip the court by denying Bolden a victory and retaining Viviano’s open seat, though as a practical matter, incumbents have historically held a significant reelection edge.

Democratic law professor Kimberly Ann Thomas is running, while on the Republican side, Court of Appeals Judge Mark Boonstra and state Rep. Andrew Fink are expected to run. Nominations will be determined at party conventions.

If Bolden is returned to the court, the Democrats would retain their 4-3 edge even if they were to lose the open seat contest. A Democratic victory in both races would cement an even wider Democratic advantage on the court.


In Ohio, 3 seats will be contested on a court that currently has a 4-3 Republican majority. Theoretically, that’s enough to flip the court this year, but in increasingly red Ohio, the likelihood of the required Democratic flip is slim. In fact, maintaining the status quo will be hard enough for Democrats this year. Among other things, supreme court seats in Ohio now have party labels attached, which they didn’t prior to 2022.

The two incumbent Democratic justices who must face the voters this year are Melody Stewart and Michael Donnelly. Stewart faces a stiff contest against Joe Deters, who is giving up the seat on the court that Republican Gov. Mike DeWine appointed him to following the 2022 election, choosing to take on Stewart instead. Donnelly, meanwhile, faces Republican Megan Shanahan, a judge in Hamilton County (Cincinnati).

Finally, the race for the seat Deters is leaving will pit Democrat Lisa Forbes against Republican Dan Hawkins; both are lower-court judges.

Redistricting has been a big issue for the Ohio court, and will likely remain salient going forward, although voters may approve a new system in this year’s election. In addition, the 2023 abortion rights amendment passed by voters is expected to be a key issue in the near future. Expect considerable spending in these races, with a likely Republican edge.


Democrats have been holding back the supreme court tide in otherwise red Montana, but will their luck continue in 2024?

Two years ago, Republicans reelected one conservative justice to the formally nonpartisan court, but in a second, hard-fought race, incumbent Ingrid Gustafson, a Democratic appointee, defeated James Brown, a Republican public service commissioner.

Democrats will have to play defense this year, as Mike McGrath and Dirk Sandefur, two justices who were formerly Democratic officials, retire from the court. The primary will be held June 4.

In the race to succeed McGrath as chief justice, the frontrunner is former federal judge Jerry Lynch; he faces two lesser-known candidates.

For the Sandefur seat, the field includes Dan Wilson and Katherine Bidegaray, two lower-court judges, and former state Rep. Jerry O’Neil. There does not appear to be a clear frontrunner in this contest.

North Carolina

North Carolina’s supreme court, a perennial battleground in a closely divided state, currently has a 5-2 Republican majority, a sharp reversal from the 6-1 edge held by Democrats prior to the 2020 election. The shift has produced major consequences for redistricting, among other issues.

This year, Republicans are hoping to chop the number of seats held by Democrats in half. Last year, a Democratic justice, Mike Morgan, retired (and later finished a distant second in March’s gubernatorial primary to Attorney General Josh Stein). On the court, Morgan was succeeded by Allison Riggs, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper who previously served as an appeals court judge.

Now, in the race to keep her seat, Riggs will face another appeals court judge, Republican Jefferson Griffin.

Democrats will serve in the court’s minority regardless of who wins in November. For Democrats, the supreme court races in 2024 and 2026 are all about treading water. In 2026, the only justice on the ballot will be Anita Earls, the court’s other Democrat. Democrats will have to wait until 2028 before three Republican justices face the voters.

The Riggs-Griffin contest should be competitive, with a slight Republican lean. As the incumbent, Riggs may have higher name recognition, but she has never run in an election, while Griffin has won two. Moreover, the last time a Democrat won a state supreme court election was 2018. Turnout at the top of the ticket will likely drive this race more than individual campaign dynamics will.


The retirement of conservative Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter has produced an open-seat contest between appeals court judge Pamela Goodwine and lawyer Erin Izzo. Kentucky judicial contests are officially nonpartisan, but Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has endorsed Goodwine while Republicans are expected to support Izzo. The voters of Kentucky’s 5th judicial district will decide the race; it’s a competitive district that includes Lexington.

Goodwine is considered to the left of VanMeter, which could potentially shape the court’s approach on abortion and other issues if she wins.

Other contested races

Eight other states will hold contested judicial elections this year, but none is expected to have the impact of the contests in Michigan, Ohio, Montana, North Carolina, or Kentucky.


Four of the court’s nine justices are facing reelection unopposed this year: Republicans Chris McCool, Tommy Bryan, William Sellers, and Jay Mitchell. None was challenged in the Republican primary, and none has a Democratic opponent in November.

But the fifth election this year is notable. Chief Justice Tom Parker, a staunch conservative, is retiring. Republicans nominated incumbent Justice Sarah Stewart, while Democrats nominated Greg Griffin, a lower court judge. (McCool, a lower-court judge, is running for the seat Stewart is vacating.)

In this solidly red state, Stewart is considered a strong favorite over Griffin, which would keep the entire supreme court under Republican control. Democrats have been trying to make an issue of the court’s “frozen embryo” ruling earlier this year, which prompted IVF clinics to stop their work in Alabama (though the legislature later passed a measure to grant clinics immunity). Stewart sided with the majority in that decision, but in solidly Republican Alabama, observers doubt the backlash will be sufficient to cause her to lose.


The election for Shawn Womack’s seat on the highest court in Arkansas did not attract any other candidates in the March election, so Womack is assured of another term. A second seat is guaranteed to Courtney Hudson; she secured a majority of the vote in March, which was enough to avoid a November runoff. The seat she’ll occupy is different from the one she previously held on the court, so the vacancy for her old seat will be filled by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

However, a third seat, the contest for chief justice, has produced a contested race that pits two current justices: Karen R. Baker and Rhonda Wood. To fill the chief justice slot, the winner of November’s runoff will need to leave their existing seat, giving Sanders a second appointment opportunity. The loser will keep their existing seat on the court.

Baker is considered more moderate than Wood, and she edged out Wood in the first round of voting in March despite Wood’s better funded campaign. But because the state’s court is already solidly conservative, it is unlikely that national campaign organizations will engage as they have sometimes done in past Arkansas judicial elections.


In Georgia’s supreme court elections, which will be held May 21, 3 incumbent justices are skating to reelection unopposed: Michael Boggs, John Ellington, and Nels Peterson.

The fourth justice running this year, Andrew Pinson, does have an opponent: former Rep. John Barrow (D, GA-12). Pinson was appointed to the supreme court by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022; Kemp used a previous appointment and legal loophole to cancel a 2020 election that Barrow and a Republican had been planning to run in. They sued to keep the election alive, but the justices ruled that none needed to be held. Instead, Barrow is running this year against Pinson.

Barrow, who is making a strong abortion rights pitch, is considered the underdog.

Separately, the most closely watched judicial race might be in Fulton County, home of Atlanta. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, a Kemp appointee who is presiding over the Donald Trump election interference case being prosecuted by Fani Willis, faces a challenge from Robert Patillo, a lawyer and radio host.


Republican Gov. Jeff Landry recently signed legislation to restructure the state’s supreme court districts for the first time in more than two decades. The redrawing created a second predominantly Black supreme court district. As it happens, that new district will be coming open due to the retirement of Republican Justice Scott Crichton. But the delay as the map was finalized has left the contest to succeed Crichton in limbo.


Three justices (Anne K. McKeig, Karl Procaccini, and Chief Justice Natalie Hudson) are standing for reelection and are expected to win. All three were nominated by Democratic governors.

Two other incumbent justices (Barry Anderson and Margaret Chutich) are retiring in such a way that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz was able to recently appoint Theodora Gaïtas and Sarah Hennesy to replace them; they will not have to run for election until 2026.


Mississippi will host two contested supreme court races this year. Jim Kitchens, who’s considered a moderate Democrat, faces four opponents, including Republican state Sen. Jenifer Branning. Justice Dawn Beam, considered a moderate Republican, is facing attorney David Sullivan. The incumbents begin the race as favorites.

Meanwhile, incumbent justices Robert Chamberlin and Jimmy Maxwell were up for reelection but have not drawn challengers, so they will automatically be granted new terms.


On Texas’s supreme court, Republican incumbents Jimmy Blacklock, John Devine, and Jane Bland all face Democratic challengers. Blacklock faces DaSean Jones, Devine faces Christine Weems, and Bland faces Bonnie Lee Goldstein; all are currently judges in other courts.

Meanwhile, the state’s separate court of criminal appeals has three contested elections for open seats. Republican David Schenck, a former appeals judge, faces Democratic former prosecutor Holly Taylor. Republican Gina Parker faces Nancy Mulder, a Dallas County judge. And Republican lawyer Lee Finley faces Democratic attorney Chika Anyiam. Libertarian candidates are also running in some races.

The GOP hasn’t lost a supreme court or court of criminal appeals election in decades, so each Democrat will be a strong underdog this year. There have been some primary battles among Republicans, as political figures, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, have sought to take revenge on officials they dislike. But GOP control of Texas’s top courts is not seriously threatened at this point.

Washington state

Two supreme court justices did not attract any challengers as filing closed a few days ago (Steven González and Sheryl Gordon McCloud) while another (Susan Owens) is retiring. Only one candidate for Owens’s seat, attorney Salvador Mungia, has attracted much attention so far but three others filed as well.

Uncontested races

Five states have only supreme court elections in which one or more justice has no opposition and are certain to be reelected.


Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan does not have an opponent and is assured reelection in the May 21 election.


The Illinois supreme court had 2 competitive races in 2022 that, had they gone the Republicans’ way, could have flipped control of the court. Instead, the Democrats swept both seats, producing a 5-2 majority that could last a decade.

A Democratic justice, Joy Cunningham, prevailed in the March 19 primary and faces no opponent in November. A Republican justice, Lisa Holder White, was unopposed in the primary and faces no opponent in the general election. So there will be no net change in the court’s balance.


Justices Elissa Cadish, Patricia Lee, and Lidia Stiglich each faced no primary opposition, and they have no opponents in November, either.


Five Oregon justices, all Democratic, face no opposition this year: Stephen K. Bushong, Rebecca Duncan, Meagan A. Flynn, Aruna Masih, and Bronson James.

West Virginia

Two candidates are running unopposed in November.

One is incumbent Haley Bunn, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice in 2022 to fill a vacancy. The other is Republican state Sen. Charles Trump (no relation to the former president), who is running for an open seat. In the Senate, Trump chaired the Judiciary Committee.

Both Bunn and Trump are considered moderates by West Virginia standards, and the court’s orientation is not expected to swing significantly.

High-profile retention elections

Retention elections typically attract little interest, but this year, two states have such contests that should attract more attention than usual, due to abortion politics.


Two justices who voted to uphold an abortion ban from 1864 are up for retention this year: Clint Bolick and Kathryn Hackett King. Both were appointed by former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

A progressive group has begun working to encourage voters to deny retention. Separately, Arizona voters are expected to consider a ballot measure that would effectively overturn the state’s current ban on abortions after 15 weeks. The state legislature recently overturned the 1864 law, as a few Republicans joined with Democrats to push through the repeal (Republicans have thin majorities in both legislative chambers). So abortion rights will still be a focus in Arizona this year.


Like Arizona, abortion rights have become a big issue this year in Florida, after the state supreme court let a ban on abortions after six weeks go into effect. At the same time, the court cleared a measure for the ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, likely spelling the end for the six-week ban if approved by 60% of the electorate.

Two justices who face retention elections this year, Renatha Francis and Meredith Sasso, voted against allowing the ballot measure to proceed (and also voted to uphold the abortion ban). Both were appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Under the system that’s been in place since the early 1970s, no Florida justice has lost a retention election. And even if both were ousted by voters this year, DeSantis would appoint replacements from a list compiled by the Judicial Nominating Commission, which the governor himself controls. Since 2019, DeSantis has made 7 appointments to the supreme court, including 5 of the current 7 justices. So even a successful blocking of retention for Francis and Sasso would not shift the ideological character of the court.

Other retention elections

Another 13 states have retention elections this fall that are expected to be drama-free. It’s extremely unusual for a justice to be denied retention, regardless of the state, and at this point, none of the retention elections in the following states is expected to produce a “no” vote.


Two justices appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Dario Borghesan and Jennifer Henderson, face retention elections this year. Despite the court’s rightward shift in recent years, conservative activists in Alaska still criticize justices for being too moderate, especially on abortion and LGBTQ issues. A campaign from the left to deny retention for one or both justices is considered possible but not certain.


Three justices appointed by three different Democratic governors face retention elections in Colorado this year: Monica Márquez, Brian Boatright, and Maria Berkenkotter.

The three attracted the most attention recently in the case over whether former President Donald Trump should be allowed on the Colorado primary ballot or denied a spot due to the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Of the three, only Márquez sided with the majority in ruling that Trump should be kept off the ballot. (The Supreme Court later reversed the Colorado court’s decision.)

There does not yet appear to be an organized effort to deny retention for any of the three.


Three appointees of Republican governors are up for retention this year: Mark Massa, Derek Molter, and Loretta Rush.

Two previous organized attempts to deny an Indiana justice retention failed, in 1988 and 2012. No justice facing retention this year has any particular baggage, and no one has launched an effort to deny retention. Legal observers say the court has been less ideological than its all-Republican membership would suggest, due to guardrails within the state’s judicial nominating process.


Justice David May, appointed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, faces a retention election this year. No campaign to deny retention has emerged yet.

Reynolds has appointed 5 of the court’s 7 justices, with the other two appointed by her predecessor and fellow Republican, Terry Branstad. So the ideological balance of the court is not in question this year.


Chief Justice Matthew Fader and justices Angela M. Eaves and Shirley Marie Watts face retention elections this year in Maryland. Fader and Eaves were nominated by former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan; Watts was nominated by former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. No organized effort to deny retention has emerged, and all are heavily favored to be retained.


Two recent appointees of Republican Gov. Mike Parson face retention elections this fall: Kelly Broniec and Ginger Gooch. They are expected to win voter approval easily.


Stephanie Stacy faces a retention election this fall and is heavily favored to be retained.

New Mexico

Briana H. Zamora, who won her seat as a Democrat in a 2022 special election, faces a retention election for a full term in November. She should easily clear the hurdle.


Like Texas, Oklahoma has both a supreme court and a court of criminal appeals, and three justices on each face retention elections this year: James Edmondson, Noma D. Gurich, and Yvonne Kauger on the Oklahoma Supreme Court and David B. Lewis, William J. Musseman and Scott Rowland on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

While Oklahoma has become a ruby red state in recent years, the three supreme court justices facing retention elections this year were all appointed by Democratic governors: Edmondson and Gurich by former Gov. Brad Henry and Kauger by then-Gov. George Nigh way back in 1984. Kauger will be 87 in November but has sent no indication that she won’t stand for election again.

Currently, Republican appointees have a 5-4 edge, which is surprising given that the last Democratic governor left office in 2011. While this partisan breakdown means the court is probably to the left of the state’s dominant Republican Party, there is no sign of any anti-retention efforts yet. That said, Republicans in the legislature are considering mandatory judicial retirement ages, which could affect Edmondson and Kauger.

Meanwhile, on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Lewis was appointed by a Democrat while Musseman and Rowland were appointed by Republicans.

South Dakota

Scott P. Myren faces a retention election but should be retained easily.


Dwight Tarwater, a recent appointee of Republican Gov. Bill Lee, is up for retention in an Aug. 1 election. He should be retained easily.


Chief Justice Matthew Durrant is up for retention and should win another term easily.


Two justices, Kate Fox and John Fenn, will face retention elections. Both should have a glide path to new terms. A case asserting that Wyoming’s abortion law is unconstitutional will not reach the court by Election Day but could do so next year.

P.S. A key election coming in April 2025


This race isn’t on tap for November, but it’s worth mentioning because of its political importance. In April, long-serving Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of Wisconsin’s supreme court announced that she would not seek another term in 2025.

Bradley is a member of the court’s current 4-3 liberal majority, which emerged in 2023 after a long conservative reign. Last year, in a high-profile and expensive judicial election, Janet Protasiewicz, favored by Democrats, filled a seat that had previously been held by a Republican-leaning justice. In the court’s previous conservative incarnation, it had been a bulwark for state Republicans, notably approving legislative maps that were tilted heavily toward the GOP.

In a state with close political divisions, the new liberal court has sought to undo some of the court’s prior positions, including on redistricting. Such legal battles have often sparked tensions between the opposing ideological factions of justices.

Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel is running for Bradley’s seat. A credible Democratic-aligned candidate is expected, with a fierce race likely.

Louis Jacobson is a Senior Columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He is also the senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and is senior author of the Almanac of American Politics 2024. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.