Partisan Battles Over State Courts Grab Further National Spotlight

justice-scalesFor the second time in only several days, a major national news outlet has cast a spotlight on partisan political efforts in both state elections and in state capitals to capture control of fair and impartial courts.

“Control of state courts becomes a top political battleground,” reported The Associated Press. As did The New York Times only days earlier (see Gavel Grab), the AP’s multi-state account cited Justice at Stake for its tracking of judicial election spending. The AP published its article, published in newspapers across America, on the eve of a contentious Wisconsin Supreme Court election and with an eye on political attacks on the courts in state capitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and on court expansion efforts in Georgia and Arizona.

“State courts are the final word on a host of state law issues that have high stakes for businesses’ bottom lines, legislatures’ agendas and the rights of individuals,” said Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization. “Who sits on state courts can have a profound impact on the legal landscape in a state, and special interest groups and politicians are increasingly paying attention.”

The AP took note of the political struggle over a Supreme Court vacancy in Washington before shifting its attention to “equally partisan battles” over state courts around the nation. It reported, “State supreme court elections have begun to resemble the rough-and-tumble, high-dollar campaigns associated with races for governor or Congress. Voters in about two dozen states are casting ballots for state supreme court justices this year. Spending for two Arkansas Supreme Court seats alone topped $1.6 million, setting a state record for TV ad buys in a judicial election.”