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State Supreme Court Elections to Watch in 2024

Key races in Michigan, Montana, Kentucky, and Ohio will shape state law on reproductive rights, criminal justice, and much more. 

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State supreme courts — and the elections determining who sits on them — are attracting more attention than ever. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which largely shifted abortion battles to the states, judicial elections are increasingly shattering spending records and giving the appearance of any other battleground election in terms of campaign rhetoric.

This year alone, 33 states will hold elections for 82 seats on their highest courts. In fact, voters have already cast ballots in this year’s first supreme court elections — Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas all held contests on Super Tuesday to decide who sits on their high courts or who will run in November general elections, and Illinois and Ohio will vote later this month. As always, this year’s judicial races include a mix of partisan and nonpartisan contested elections, as well as retention elections, in which judges do not have an opponent but face an up-or-down vote where voters choose whether or not to give them an additional term.

Some of these races have the potential to reshape court majorities, and with them the rights of people who live in the state, while others will go by uncontested or uncompetitive. Here are the races we will be watching most closely between now and November for their potential impact on state constitutional law.


While elections to the Michigan Supreme Court are nonpartisan — candidates do not have a party label next to their name on the ballot — candidates can be nominated by political parties during their conventions. Since 2020, the court has had a 4–3 majority of justices nominated by the Democratic Party, but that majority could flip this year.

The court’s slim majority has been most apparent in a series of recent 4–3 rulings related to criminal sentencing. In just the last two years, the court has struck down as unconstitutional harsh sentencing practices for young defendants and a law requiring appellate courts to affirm all sentences issued by trial courts so long as those sentences were within the legislature’s sentencing guidelines.

Other high-profile decisions have garnered more durable majorities, however. The court’s decision to allow a ballot initiative to expand abortion rights to proceed to the ballot over alleged technical deficiencies, for example, was decided by a 5–2 vote.

Two seats are up for election: those of Justice David Viviano (previously nominated by the Republican Party) and Justice Kyra Harris Bolden (appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)). Viviano has announced that he will not run for reelection, but Republican State Rep. Andrew Fink, Michigan Court of Appeals judge Mark Boonstra, and law professor and juvenile justice advocate Kimberly Thomas have declared they are running, and other candidates are likely to file before the July deadline. If Republican candidates win both seats this November, the court would swing to a 4–3 Republican majority.


Two justices on the Montana Supreme Court are retiring at the end of their terms — including the chief justice — leaving two seats open this year with no incumbents running. Former federal magistrate judge Jerry Lynch, attorney Doug Marshall, and attorney Cory Swanson, who identifies as a judicial conservative, are vying to be chief justice, while state district court judges Katherine Bidegaray and Dan Wilson are competing along with former Republican state legislator Jerry O’Neill for an associate justice position. Wilson has received campaign contributions from Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. The two candidates in each race who receive the most votes in a June primary will compete in November.

Judicial elections in Montana are nonpartisan, but races for state supreme court seats have had a decidedly political feel in the past several cycles. The court has faced accusations of liberal bias from Montana Republicans, and national conservative groups have spent large sums to try to elect justices sympathetic to a conservative agenda. Recent holdings that rattled Montana conservatives included two decisions protecting abortion rights under state law and a decision rejecting a legislative subpoena for the court’s own records as part of lawmakers’ investigation into whether judges had improperly expressed opinions on pending legislation — a dispute that has exemplified the tension between the court and the GOP-controlled legislature. It’s worth noting, though, that the abortion and subpoena opinions were unanimous, meaning that they would be unchanged even if two votes went the other way.

The court’s rulings on other issues, however, could be impacted by the election of two conservative-backed justices. The court split 4–3 when it blocked a 2021 law eliminating the ability of voters to register to vote on Election Day. And a 5–2 majority refused to put on hold a landmark trial court decision finding that a state law barring officials from considering climate change in environmental impact assessments violated the state constitution’s right to a clean and healthful environment (though one retiring justice was in the majority and one in dissent, suggesting this year’s election alone might not affect the court’s decisions in that case).


The Kentucky Supreme Court has issued unanimous rulings in some recent high-profile cases, suggesting the outcome of this election may not have a dramatic effect on the court’s jurisprudence. The court, for example, unanimously rejected claims that the state’s legislative and congressional maps were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders (though the justices did not all agree as to why the claims should fail). By a 6–1 majority the court also ruled the legislature unconstitutionally encroached on the judiciary’s power when it passed a forum shopping law allowing government officials to move constitutional cases to a different circuit court and away from a judge who has ruled against the legislature in several significant cases.

But the outcome of this election could affect a future challenge to the state’s abortion restrictions. In Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the Kentucky Supreme Court splintered, issuing five separate opinions across seven justices. A majority including the chief justice determined that the plaintiff physicians lacked standing to challenge the state’s near-total abortion ban on the grounds that it violated their patients’ rights to privacy and self-determination, leaving the law in effect. Several sitting justices indicated their willingness to consider the challenge, however, suggesting that a new justice might impact the court’s approach to abortion cases.

Kentucky’s chief justice declined to run for reelection this year, setting up an open race for his seat covering Franklin County — home to the state’s capital, Frankfort — and surrounding counties. (Kentucky Supreme Court candidates run from districts rather than statewide.) State appellate judge Pamela Goodwine and attorney Erin Izzo will compete for the seat in November. The court will then decide who among all of the justices will serve a four-year term as chief justice.


This will be only the second cycle in which Ohio judicial candidates appear on the ballot with a party label next to their name, a change adopted by the Republican legislature in 2021. The court currently has a 4–3 Republican majority, but if the Democratic candidates win all three races up for election this year, that majority would flip.

The court recently reversed course on long-running redistricting litigation, dismissing a partisan gerrymandering case challenging the state’s legislative maps as unconstitutional after a previous majority had repeatedly ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. In the coming years, the court will likely be asked to interpret new voter-adopted constitutional amendments, including last year’s amendment protecting abortion access.

Three incumbent justices — Michael Donnelly (D), Melody Stewart (D), and Joseph Deters (R) — are up for election. Donnelly will face state trial judge Megan Shanahan (R) in November. Incumbents Stewart and Deters are both running for Stewart’s seat, as Deters opted to run for a full term rather than a partial term for the seat he was appointed to last year. That leaves the remainder of Deters’s term open. Appellate judges Lisa Forbes (D) and Terri Jamison (D) will compete in a March 19 primary to face Franklin County trial judge Dan Hawkins (R) in November for Deters’ seat. A Democratic majority may be unlikely as Republican candidates won all three elections in 2022 by double-digit margins.

Other notable races

Many more states have elections this year that will shape their courts, even if the likely ideological impact on the court is more difficult to pinpoint. This week in Arkansas, for example, elections for two seats on the supreme court will create vacancies that allow Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) to appoint two new justices to the court. Justice Courtney Goodson won an election to a different seat than the one she currently holds (she changed seats to extend her eligibility to serve on the court), and justices Karen Baker and Rhonda Wood will compete in a November runoff for the position of chief justice. This outcome could affect Arkansans’ ability to sue their government when it violates their rights, as Baker has been vocal about her disagreement with the court’s recent ruling that the state is essentially immune from suits for financial damages.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Justice Allison Riggs (D), a former civil rights lawyer who was appointed on an interim basis to the state high court last fall and won her primary this week, faces Judge Jefferson Griffin (R) of the North Carolina Court of Appeals in November. If Griffin wins, Republicans will have a 6–1 majority on a court that only two years ago had a 4–3 Democratic majority. And in Alabama, national conservative groups unsuccessfully got involved in a contentious Republican primary to replace retiring chief justice Tom Parker who invoked theology in the court’s recent decision finding frozen embryos fit within the state’s wrongful death statute. Associate Justice Sarah Stewart won the Republican primary and will face lower court judge Greg Griffin (D) in November.

Part of the story this year may also be the high-stakes races that did not materialize, even in the post-Dobbs era. Illinois, Nevada, and West Virginia could have seen state supreme court majorities at stake this cycle, but candidates did not end up contesting the races in those states. We will also be closely watching retention elections in states like Missouri and Oklahoma, which have historically been quiet affairs, but where the state supreme courts have ruled against their respective legislatures on questions related to democratic participation and abortion rights.

Whatever happens this cycle, the new attention on state supreme courts is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.

Douglas Keith is a founding editor of State Court Report and a senior counsel in the Judiciary Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Brennan Center for Justice, which maintains State Court Report, represented parties in the Ohio redistricting litigation, Ohio Organizing Collaborative v. Ohio Redistricting Commission.

A correction was made on March 27, 2024: An earlier version of this article stated that all candidates in Michigan would compete in a single contest with the two candidates receiving the most votes winning seats on the court. However, because the contest for Justice Bolden’s seat is a special election for only the remainder of her term rather than a full term, it will appear on the ballot separately. 

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