Breaking down partisanship on the Delaware Supreme Court

Delaware is the only state in the country with a constitutional requirement mandating partisan balance on the state supreme court. In 1851, Delaware amended its constitution to include: “three of the five Justices of the Supreme Court in office at the same time, shall be of one major political party, and two of said Justices shall be of the other major political party.”

Ballotpedia’s recently published study on state supreme courts revealed that of the five justices on the Delaware Supreme Court, four justices had some level of affiliation with the Democratic party and one justice had an indeterminate partisan affiliation.

In “Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship”, we gathered a variety of data on 341 active state supreme court justices across the 50 states in order to understand their partisan affiliations. Based on this research, we placed each justice into one of five categories indicating our confidence in their affiliations with either the Democratic or Republican Parties. These categories are Strong Democratic, Mild Democratic, Indeterminate, Mild Republican, and Strong Republican.

Our confidence measure shows that there are two Strong Democrats on the Delaware Supreme Court (Justices James Vaughn and Collins Seitz), two Mild Democrats (Justices Gary Traynor and Tamika Montgomery-Reeves), and one Indeterminate justice (Justice Karen Valihura). 

Although Justice Traynor is a registered Republican, the Federal Election Commission records that he has donated to Democratic political campaigns and has no recorded donations to Republican campaigns. Justice Valihura is also a registered Republican in the state. Unlike Traynor, she has donated to Republican campaigns throughout her career.

As of 2020, Delaware remains the only state with such a requirement in its constitution. States like New Jersey and Massachusetts have informal but not constitutional rules which mandate balance on the state supreme court.

Justices in Delaware are selected using the assisted appointment method, where the Judicial Selection Commission forwards a list of candidates to the governor. The governor then appoints a candidate who must then be confirmed by the Delaware General Assembly. Justices serve renewable twelve-year terms.

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