TagState courts

Arkansas Supreme Court seat up for election on March 3rd

The term of one Arkansas Supreme Court justice, Josephine Hart, will expire on December 31, 2020. Justice Hart did not file for re-election. The seat is up for nonpartisan election on March 3, 2020, and a runoff election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. Hart was elected to this position on May 22, 2012.

Morgan Welch and Barbara Womack Webb are running in the general election for Hart’s seat on the court. Webb is a former Circuit Judge for the 22nd Judicial Circuit, appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R).

Welch is the Division 16 judge on the Sixth Circuit in Arkansas. Welch was first elected to the position on May 22, 2012, and was re-elected in May 2018. His second term began on January 1, 2019, and expires on January 1, 2025.

There are seven justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court, each elected to eight-year terms. They compete in nonpartisan primaries (occurring at the same time as the primary elections for other state officials) in which a candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote wins the seat outright. If no candidate garners a majority of the vote, the top two candidates compete in a runoff during the general election.

The current justices on the court are:

  • Karen R. Baker – Elected in 2010
  • Josephine Hart – Elected in 2012
  • Courtney Hudson Goodson – Elected in 2010
  • Dan Kemp – Elected in 2016
  • Shawn Womack – Elected in 2016
  • Rhonda Wood – Elected in 2014
  • Robin Wynne – Elected in 2014

Justices serve staggered terms, so it is unlikely the entire court will be replaced in one election. Nonpartisan elections were implemented in 2000 with the passage of Amendment 3. Vacancies are filled by interim appointments by the governor of Arkansas under Amendment 29, Section 1, of the state constitution. Appointed justices may not run to succeed themselves in the next election. The court consists of a chief justice, a vice chief justice, and five associate justices. The court’s chief justice is selected by voters at large and serves in that capacity for a full eight-year term.

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Eight apply for Alaska Supreme Court vacancy

Eight candidates have applied to fill a vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court. The vacancy will occur when Justice Craig Stowers retires on June 1, 2020.

Stowers was appointed to the court in 2009 by Governor Sean Parnell (R). Before that, he was a judge on the Alaska Third Judicial District Court from 2004 to 2009, an attorney in private practice from 1987 to 2004, and a law clerk to Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews from 1986 to 1987 and to Judge Robert Boochever on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit from 1985 to 1986. He received his undergraduate degree in biology, with honors, from Blackburn College in 1975 and his J.D. from the University of California Davis in 1985.

The five justices of the Alaska Supreme Court are each appointed by the governor from a list of two or more nominees compiled by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). New justices serve an initial term of at least three years, after which the justice must stand for retention in an uncontested yes-no election to remain on the bench. Subsequent terms last ten years. The AJC is an independent state commission, established by the Alaska Constitution, that is responsible for screening applicants for judicial vacancies. The AJC has seven members–three lawyers, three nonlawyers, and the chief justice of the state supreme court.

The following eight individuals applied to fill the upcoming vacancy:

  • Dario Borghesan: A chief assistant attorney general in Anchorage, Alaska. Borghesan graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 2008.
  • Judge Dani Crosby: A superior court judge in Anchorage. Crosby graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1996.
  • Kate Demarest: A senior assistant attorney general in Anchorage. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2008.
  • Judge Jennifer Stuart Henderson: A superior court judge in Anchorage. She graduated from Yale Law School in 2001.
  • Judge Yvonne Lamoureux: A superior court judge in Anchorage. She graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2003.
  • Margaret Paton Walsh: A chief assistant attorney general in Anchorage. She graduated from Harvard Law School in 2004.
  • Judge Paul A. Roetman: A superior court judge in Kotzebue, Alaska. He graduated from Regent University School of Law in 1999.
  • Judge Jonathan Woodman: A superior court judge in Palmer, Alaska. He graduated from the Ohio State University College of Law in 1993.

The Alaska Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. In addition to Stowers, it includes the following justices:

  • Daniel Winfree – Appointed by Gov. Sarah Palin (R)
  • Joel Harold Bolger – Appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell (R)
  • Peter Jon Maassen – Appointed by Gov. Parnell
  • Susan Carney – Appointed by Gov. Bill Walker (I)

In 2020, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

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Illinois Supreme Court justice Robert Thomas to retire

On February 10, 2020, Chief Justice Robert Thomas (R) announced that he will retire from the Illinois Supreme Court on February 29. In the event of a midterm vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court appoints an interim judge. The interim judge serves until the next general election occurring at least 60 days after his appointment. The judge must then run in a partisan election to remain on the court. The Illinois Supreme Court has decided that following Chief Justice Thomas’ retirement, Appellate Justice Michael Burke will assume his seat as an interim judge.

Alongside Thomas’ seat (to be held by Burke), there will be three other seats on the ballot in November. Lloyd Karmeier (R) announced his retirement on December 6, 2019, and his seat will be up for partisan election on November 3, 2020. P. Scott Neville (D) was chosen to fill a vacancy on the court in 2018 and his seat will also be up for regular election on November 3, 2020. Thomas Kilbride (D) will also face retention election on November 3, 2020.

The retirement of Thomas and Karmeier leaves Justice Rita Garman the lone Republican on the seven-member Court.

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Karofsky and Kelly advance in Wisconsin Supreme Court primary; Fallone eliminated

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky were the top-two finishers in Tuesday’s nonpartisan Wisconsin Supreme Court primary and will advance to the April 7 general election. As of 9:10 p.m. CT, Kelly had received 48.8% of the vote to Karofsky’s 38.0% and Fallone’s 13.3% with 57.3% of precincts reporting.

Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Kelly is a member of the court’s conservative majority and received support from conservative groups. Karofsky and Fallone indicated they would join the liberal minority and received support from liberal groups.

Recent election history suggested that either Karofsky or Fallone was likely to be eliminated in Tuesday’s primary. Between 2005 and 2019, every contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election resulted in a conservative-backed candidate and a liberal-backed candidate advancing from the primary rather than two justices of the same ideological leaning.

The April 7 general election will determine if and when ideological control of the court could change in the future. A Kelly win would preserve the current 5-2 conservative majority. Assuming that no justices leave the bench early, this would prevent liberals from winning a majority on the court any earlier than 2026. A Karofsky win would narrow the conservative majority to 4-3 and mean that the 2023 election would decide control of the court.

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court general elections have been decided by narrow margins. In 2019, Brian Hagedorn defeated Lisa Neubauer by a 50.2% to 49.7% margin. The widest margin of victory in a contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election in the past decade was Ann Walsh Bradley’s 58.1% to 41.9% win over James Daley in 2015.

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Illinois Supreme Court Justice to retire on Leap Day

Illinois Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Thomas is retiring on February 29, 2020. Thomas announced plans to join law firm Powers Rogers following his retirement.

Justice Thomas joined the Second District of the Illinois Supreme Court after winning election in November 2000. Thomas served as the Chief Justice of the court from 2005 to 2008. He previously served as a judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois from 1988 to 1994, and as a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court from 1994 to 2000.

Thomas earned a B.A. in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. In 1981, he earned a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law. Prior to beginning his legal career, Thomas was a kicker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League.

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge in the event of a midterm vacancy. The interim judge serves until the next primary election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to remain on the court. Illinois Supreme Court Justices are selected by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in nonpartisan retention elections to remain on the court.

Because the vacancy from Thomas’ retirement is set to occur less than 60 days before the state’s next primary on March 3, his replacement was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court in a vote of the justices. The court appointed appellate Justice Michael J. Burke to serve from March 1, 2020, to December 5, 2022.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts across the state) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions. Three other states—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—use a similar system.

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:
• Mary Jane Theis — Elected in 2010
• Anne M. Burke — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006; elected Chief Justice by her peers in 2019
• P. Scott Neville — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018
• Thomas Kilbride — Elected in 2000
• Rita Garman — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001
• Lloyd Karmeier — Elected in 2004

The Illinois Supreme Court will see another retirement in 2020. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is retiring from the court on December 6, 2020. His seat will be filled via partisan election.

In 2020, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Supreme Court justice vacancy.

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State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Illinois Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Illinois



Florida Supreme Court declines to hear Coral Gables preemption case

On February 12, the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the City of Coral Gables of a ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal that upheld the state’s preemption of local bans on plastic packaging. Preemption occurs when law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level of government.

The city of Coral Gables banned the retail use of expanded polystyrene (plastic foam) in February 2016. In July 2016, the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) filed a lawsuit against the city, and Judge Jorge Cueto of the Eleventh Circuit Court upheld the city’s polystyrene ban in February 2017.

On August 14, 2019, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling, stating, “Because the trial court erred in finding [Florida Statutes sections 403.708(9), 403.7033, and 500.90] unconstitutional and concluding that the City’s Polystyrene Ordinance was not preempted, we reverse.” After the Third District Court denied the city’s motion to certify the question to the Florida Supreme Court, Coral Gables invoked the supreme court’s discretionary jurisdiction.

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Wisconsin Governor appoints White to Court of Appeals

 

On January 16, 2020, Judge Maxine White was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District 1, by Governor Tony Evers (D) to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former judge Joan Kessler. White took her seat on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals on February 7, 2020. She will serve the remainder of Evers term, which ends on July 31, 2021.

Before White was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, she served as the chief judge of Wisconsin’s First Judicial District and as presiding judge of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s Family Division. Before becoming a judge, White served as a legal advisor for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and as a manager for the Social Security Administration.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court. The court is composed of 16 judges from four districts. Selection of state court judges in Wisconsin occurs through nonpartisan elections. In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement.

Three Wisconsin Court of Appeals justices’ seats are up for election in 2020. A nonpartisan election is scheduled for April 7, 2020.

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Feb. 18 primary to narrow Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate field

A nonpartisan primary will take place on Feb. 18 to narrow the candidate field in the 2020 election of a justice to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Incumbent Daniel Kelly, Ed Fallone, and Jill Karofsky are running in the primary. Kelly is a member of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority. Fallone and Karofsky have each pledged to join the court’s liberal minority. Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Kelly has received support from Republican-affiliated groups and Fallone and Karofsky from Democratic-affiliated groups.

Kelly was appointed to the court in 2016 by then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) to fill a vacancy opened by the retirement of David Prosser. He says that he has the broadest range of legal experience, including as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and litigator.

Fallone is a law professor at Marquette University who ran for state supreme court in 2013. He says that he will bring new perspectives to the bench from his time as a law professor and his work with the Hispanic community and low-income clients.

Karofsky is a judge on the Dane County Circuit Court who was elected in 2017. She says she has the most firsthand experience applying the law and seeing how supreme court decisions impact residents.

All three candidates say they are running to oppose politicization of the court.

The top two finishers in the primary will advance to a general election on April 7. The winner of the general election will begin a 10-year term. A win for either Fallone or Karofsky would reduce the size of the conservative majority on the court to 4-3, meaning control of the court would be at stake during the next election in 2023. A win for Kelly would preserve the current 5-2 balance, meaning that control of the court will not be at stake until the 2026 election assuming no justices leave the bench early.

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court elections have been decided by narrow margins. In the 2019 election, conservative Brian Hagedorn defeated liberal Lisa Neubauer by a margin of 50.2% to 49.7%. Setting aside the 2017 election (in which the incumbent was unopposed), the widest margin of victory for a Wisconsin Supreme Court election in the past decade was Ann Walsh Bradley’s 58.1% to 41.9% win in 2015.

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State supreme court incumbents experienced a 93% win rate from 2008-2019

Incumbents tend to do better in elections for any office than newcomers facing incumbents. This is no less true in state supreme court elections. Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. No more than six incumbent justices have lost in a single year during this time frame. 2008 was the year with the lowest incumbent win rate at 89%.

Among the 38 states that conduct elections for supreme court justices, 11 have seen incumbents lose elections from 2008-2019. These were Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the other 27 states, incumbent supreme court justices won re-election 100% of the time from 2008-2019.

Thirty-five states are holding state supreme court elections in 2020. In total, 84 of the nation’s 344 state supreme court seats are up for election.

Of these seats, at the start of 2020:

  • 60 are held by non-partisan justices
  • 17 are held by Republican justices
  • Seven are held by Democratic justices

Twenty-nine states are holding their judicial elections on November 3, 2020. Five states are holding their judicial elections before that date, and one state is holding its judicial elections in December.

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Reynolds appoints third justice to the Iowa State Supreme Court

On January 28, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) made her third appointment to the Iowa State Supreme Court when she chose Dana Oxley to fill the vacancy left by Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Reynold’s described Justice Oxley saying, “She’s smart, she’s articulate, she’s hard-working, she brings a breadth of experience to the court.” This will be the first time in the state’s history that two women have shared the bench. Governor Reynolds stated that “We need more women in the courts, yes but I don’t make my decision based on gender. They earned those selections.”

As a result of Oxley’s appointment, five of the seven justices on the court have been appointed by Republican governors. Reynolds previously appointed Susan Christensen and Christopher McDonald. Those two appointments initially moved the court’s balance towards justices appointed by Republican governors. Chief Justice David Wiggins will retire in March 2020. If Reynolds appoints his replacement, six of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court will have been appointed by Republican governors, four of them by Reynolds.

Iowa uses the assisted appointment method to select justices, meaning that the governor must select an appointment from a list of three nominees recommended by the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission.

In Justice Oxley’s application for nomination, she wrote that during her clerkship with U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Hansen she learned “the art of judicial restraint.” She explained that, “while legal issues may have lurked on the edges of a case that were more interesting than the ones that were brought in the parties’ briefs, our adversarial system works best when lawyers are allowed to bring the issues that are most important to their clients to the courts.” In her application she also claimed that the court should “not blindly apply its prior decisions but must be vigilant in protecting the rule of law.”

Click here to learn more about judicial selection in Iowa.
Click here to learn more about the Iowa Supreme Court.
Click here to learn more about assisted appointments.


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