Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Many State Supreme Court Seats Will Be on the Ballot in 2024

State Supreme Courts are potentially just as subject to partisan politics as the U.S. Supreme Court. We have discussed the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently. In both states, partisan politics has infiltrated the Courts. But as the country gets more and more polarized, politics is entering the mix in other states as well. This movement is encouraged by the fact that in many states, Supreme Court justices are elected and in others they have to undergo a retention election periodically. This means that justices have to campaign. Ultimately that means getting questions like: "Does our state Constitution protect a woman's right to an abortion?" "Beats me" is probably not a good answer. Of course, an alternative way of populating the state Supreme Courts—having the governor appoint justices—doesn't really get the politics out of appointments. Maybe some other way is needed, such as having a judicial commission made up of half Democrats and half Republicans and requiring a two-thirds majority for an appointment.

Currently, quite a few different methods are used to populate the state Supreme Courts. Here is a state-by-state breakdown:

How state Supreme Court justices are chosen

Of the states that have elections for justices, 32 states will have them next year, with 73 seats at stake. Some of these elections don't matter, but in some the balance of power on the court is at stake. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has taken a first look at these elections. Here is a table showing who's up where.

2024 State Supreme Court elections

Here is a brief rundown of the 32 states:


In these states, there is a (D) or (R) after the candidate's name, so the partisanship is out in the open.


These states have nominally nonpartisan elections, but in practice people generally know which party a candidate belongs to. In some cases, candidates previously held a partisan elected office (e.g., attorney general), so there is no question about it. In many states, vacancies are filled by the governor, so the partisanship of these justices is also clear.


In many states, especially in the middle of the country (see map above), the governor appoints justices but they have to stand for election at the next general election. This means they are all running as incumbents and have a record to defend. Unlike a regular election, they don't have an opponent. It is just a straight "yes" or "no" on retaining the justice.

If you made it all the way through, congratulations. Extra credit if you are not a lawyer. One thing you surely noticed is the enormous variation in how the states work. The courts vary from five to nine members, some justices run in partisan elections, some in nonpartisan elections, and some in retention elections. Some states have districts and some don't. Some states have nominating commissions that produce lists of candidates with the governor required to pick someone on the list and some don't. Some have mandatory retirement ages and some don't. In some states, justices may campaign and in some they may not.

Given the diversity of rules for the state Supreme Courts, that certainly raises the question of why the rules for the U.S. Supreme Court haven't changed since the Constitution was adopted. One can easily imagine an amendment instituting term limits, a mandatory retirement age, or even a periodic retention election in the circuit the justice is in charge of. The states largely didn't buy the idea that once appointed, justices were home free and could do whatever they wanted except commit really serious crimes that might get them impeached. Maybe the states know something the founding parents didn't. (V)

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