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Luke Seeley

Luke Seeley is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Ballotpedia study: population distribution mirrors state supreme court partisanship 

Ballotpedia recently published a new study on state supreme courts entitled “Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship”. Among the findings, the study revealed trends in the distribution of the population across the country that closely tracked with the breakdown of partisan control over state supreme courts.

The correlation between population distribution and court partisanship was closest among states with supreme courts where a majority of the justices are affiliated with the Republican party. On 27 (54%) state supreme courts, justices with Republican Confidence Scores (our level of confidence in partisan affiliation) make up a majority on the state supreme court. There are 178 (52.2%) justices with Republican Confidence Scores in the country. Of the U.S. population, 57.7% of citizens live in states with a Republican Court Balance Score, and 51.1% of citizens live in a state which has a majority of justices with Republican Confidence Scores on the court.

The correlation between population distribution and court partisanship was less close among states with supreme courts where a majority of the justices are affiliated with the Democratic party. On 15 (30%) state supreme courts, justices with Democratic Confidence Scores make up a majority of the justices. There are 114 justices with Democratic Confidence Scores (33.4%) in the country. Of the U.S. population, 42.3% of citizens live in states which have a court with a Democrat Court Balance Score, and 39.9% live in a state which has a majority of justices with Democratic Confidence Scores on the court.

Most people in the United States live in a state with a partisan majority on the supreme court. However, there were eight courts (16%) where there were neither justices with Democratic Confidence Scores nor justices with Republican Confidence Scores occupying a majority of the court. Forty-nine justices (14.4%) recorded an Indeterminate Confidence Score (where the justice did not have a clear tie to either party), and 9% of citizens live in a state with a split court, or a court with a majority of justices with indeterminate partisan leanings.

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Previewing Arizona House of Representatives elections

All 60 seats in the Arizona House of Representatives are up for election in 2020. Republicans lost seats but maintained their majority in the 2018 elections for the Arizona House of Representatives, winning 31 seats to Democrats’ 29. Arizona state representatives serve two-year terms, with all seats up for election every two years. Thirty multi-member state House districts elect two members each.

Ballotpedia has identified eight of the races in 2020 as battlegrounds, four of which are Democrat-held districts, three of which are Republican-held districts, and one district which is split between Republicans and Democrats. The Democrat-controlled battlegrounds are Districts 7, 10, 18, and 28. The Republican-controlled battlegrounds are Districts 6, 20, and 23. The split battleground is District 17 which is currently represented by both a Democrat and a Republican. Based on an analysis of these districts’ electoral histories, these races have the potential to be more competitive than other races and could lead to shifts in the partisan balance of the Arizona House of Representatives. 

Arizona has been under a Republican trifecta since 2009 when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was sworn into office. Brewer’s accession to the governorship ended a period of divided government that began when Republicans lost their majority in the state Senate during the 2000 legislative elections. Republicans regained their Senate majority in the 2002 elections, when Janet Napolitano (D) was elected governor. Heading into the 2018 election, Republicans had maintained control of the state House since the 1966 elections. Had the Democratic Party taken the state House, it would have broken the Republican trifecta.

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One North Dakota Supreme Court seat up for nonpartisan election in November

The seat held by North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Jon Jay Jensen will be up for a nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Jensen is seeking re-election unopposed. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) appointed Jensen in 2017.

Despite the normal method of judicial selection being a nonpartisan election, all but one justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court was initially appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. One of the justices was appointed by a Democratic governor while three were appointed by Republican governors.

The justices on the North Dakota Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for ten-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election.

Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list of names given to him by the North Dakota Judicial Nominating Committee. The committee has six voting members and one non-voting chairman. The governor appoints two voting members and the non-voting chairman. The chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court and president of the State Bar Association of North Dakota each appoint two of the remaining four voting members. As an alternative to appointing a replacement, the governor may call a special election to fill the vacancy.

Appointed judges serve for at least two years, after which they must run in the general election to finish the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. North Dakota has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Two Montana Supreme Court seats are up for nonpartisan election in November

The seats of Montana Supreme Court Justices Laurie McKinnon and Jim Shea will be up for a nonpartisan election in November. Jim Shea is running uncontested while McKinnon is running in a race with Mike Black.

McKinnon was last elected in 2012 while Shea was appointed in 2014 and elected in 2016. Two of Montana’s supreme court justices, including Shea, were appointed by Democratic governors, one was appointed by a Republican governor, and the rest were elected.

The seven justices on the Montana Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for eight-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list produced by the Montana Judicial Nominating Commission. The appointee, if confirmed by the Montana Senate, then remains in the seat until the next general election after their appointment. At this time, the appointed justice must run for re-election as the incumbent in a nonpartisan election to complete the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Montana has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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One Alaska Supreme Court justice seeks retention in November

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney is seeking retention on November 3, 2020. She was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker (I) in 2016.

Currently, four of the justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor while one was appointed by an independent governor.

The governor appoints the five justices of the supreme court through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Alaska State Bar Association has majority control over the judicial nominating commission. The Alaska Judicial Council is made up of seven members: three lawyers (appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association), three non-lawyer members (appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session), and is chaired by the chief justice of the supreme court.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years with a mandatory retirement age of 70. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Alaska, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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One Minnesota Supreme Court seat up for nonpartisan election in November

The seat of Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Thissen will be up for a nonpartisan election on November 3. Thissen is seeking re-election against Michelle L. MacDonald.

Despite the normal method of judicial selection being a nonpartisan election, every justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court was initially appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. Five of the justices were appointed by Democratic governors while two were appointed by Republican governors.

Barry Anderson: appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) in 2004

Margaret Chutich: appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) in 2016

Lorie Gildea: appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) in 2006

Natalie Hudson: appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) in 2015

Gordon Moore: appointed by Gov. Tim Walz (D) in 2020

Anne K. McKeig: appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) in 2016

Paul Thissen: appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) in 2018

The justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for six-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries in which the top two contestants advance to the general election. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement who then remains in the seat until the next general election occurring at least one year after their appointment. At this time, the appointed justice must run for re-election as the incumbent in a nonpartisan election.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Minnesota has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Two Nevada Supreme Court seats are up for nonpartisan election in November

The seats of Nevada Supreme Court Justices Mark Gibbons and Kris Pickering will be up for nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Pickering is seeking re-election while Gibbons is not. Pickering is unopposed for the November election to reclaim her seat. Ozzie Fumo and Douglas Herndon will face each other in an effort to fill Gibbons’ seat on the court.

Almost every justice on the court won their seat in a nonpartisan election. The lone exception is Justice Stiglich, who was appointed by Republican Governor Brian Sandoval in 2016.

Justices on the Nevada Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for six-year terms. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Nevada has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Nevada Supreme Court
Kris Pickering
Mark Gibbons
Ozzie Fumo
Douglas Herndon
Incumbent win rates



Three Maryland Court of Appeals justices seek retention in November

Maryland Court of Appeals Justices Brynja McDivitt Booth, Jonathan Biran, and Mary Ellen Barbera are all seeking retention on November 3, 2020. Booth and Biran were appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) while Barbera was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Currently, three of the seven justices on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor while four were appointed by a Republican governor.

The governor appoints the seven justices of the appellate court with the assistance of a judicial nominating commission. The Maryland Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission is made up of 17 members, all appointed by the governor. Five of these members are first nominated by the Maryland State Bar Association. After the governor appoints a justice, the Maryland Senate must then confirm the appointment.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least one year on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years with a mandatory retirement age of 70. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Maryland, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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Two Colorado Supreme Court justices seek retention in November

Colorado Supreme Court Justices Melissa Hart and Carlos Armando Samour Jr. are standing for retention election on November 3, 2020. Both justices were appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

Currently, six of the seven justices on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor. Of those, five were appointed by Hickenlooper.

• Brian Boatright Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2011
• Nathan Coats Appointed by Gov. Bill Owens (R) in 2000
• Richard Gabriel Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2015
• Melissa Hart Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2017
• William W. Hood Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2014
• Monica Márquez Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in 2010

• Carlos Armando Samour Jr. Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2018

The governor appoints justices to the court from a shortlist of two or three names assembled by the Colorado Judicial Nominating Convention. The convention is composed of 15 voting members. Eight are non-lawyers appointed by the governor and seven are lawyers jointly appointed by the governor, attorney general, and chief justice. No more than half the members of the committee plus one may belong to the same political party.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least two years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Colorado, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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One Utah Supreme Court justice seeks retention in November

Utah Supreme Court Justice John A. Pearce is standing for retention election on November 3, 2020. Pearce was appointed by former Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R).

Herbert appointed four of the five justices currently sitting on the court. Gov. Michael Leavitt (R) appointed the other.

The governor of Utah appoints the five justices of the supreme court with the assistance of the Utah Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor has majority control over membership on the seven-member judicial nominating commission. The governor appoints six of these members, no less than two and no more than four of whom may be lawyers. Two of the lawyer members must be appointed from a list of nominees submitted by the Utah State Bar. The Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice appoints the final member of the commission, who does not vote.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Utah, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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