As Stakes Rise, State Supreme Courts Become Crucial Election Battlegrounds
With so much at stake, the next Supreme Court election could prove to be the most important of all.
The stakes for the next presidential election or statewide election could prove to be higher than ever before. Both parties are running candidates up against stiff opposition from voters who are motivated to vote against them, but not nearly as strongly in some states as in others.
In the first U.S. Supreme Court election in 1788, George Washington won by just over seven seats. If the justices were to be elected today, there would be several more seats to contest and the contest would be much closer. The justices have seen the number of challengers increase sharply in recent years. In the 2012 election, 14 candidates filed suit. Twelve of them were successful, leading to a 6-1 majority of a court in 2013.
But there are challenges on the horizon for the current presidential justices, who will face challenges from challengers in 2014 and 2015. On the 2012 court, two of the top 12 challengers were not on the initial list of candidates, leaving the majority with just two women to be considered for the lifetime jobs.
Now the current court faces three vacancies and several contenders who are seeking a hearing.
Even without a change in any of the justices’ voting records, the race is still a toss-up, with no Democratic nominee running a clear advantage over whoever the challenger is for the open seat on the court.
In the race for the open seats on the Supreme Court, the 2012 campaign was unusual because it pitted the nominees against a single candidate, a woman named Amy Coney Barrett, who was thought of as a clear underdog.
“That’s one of the reasons that this was the most polarizing election for years,” says Brian Murphy, a law professor at the University of Richmond whose expertise focuses on election law at the Supreme Court.
Barrett, a judge on the Virginia Supreme Court, had been widely considered a long shot prior to the election. But she proved to be an effective campaigner, and she won the election by 513 votes. Her victory was so unexpected that a few justices asked the American Bar Association to analyze her win because she had barely registered in polls.