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The newest election battlefield for abortion: State supreme courts

Faith E. Pinho, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

As presidential candidates and state legislators campaign over the future of abortion in America, elections for the third branch of government have largely escaped scrutiny on the issue.

Until now.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, elections for state supreme court justices have become a new political frontier in the abortion fight, with interest groups pouring unusual amounts of money into typically little-known races.

An unprecedented $100.8 million was spent on state justice races in the election cycle when the 2022 Dobbs decision overturned Roe, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Funding from the right and left is now about equal, the Brennan Center reported, and the current election cycle is expected to set a record for the greatest amount of money spent on state supreme court elections.

"Whether we like it or not, big spending and issue campaigning in state judicial races are here to stay," said Michael Milov-Cordoba, counsel for the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan think tank on justice and policy.

Last week, the Planned Parenthood Votes super PAC and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee announced they would invest $5 million on state supreme court races "to protect democracy and reproductive rights."

 

"We are in the fight of our lives to protect and restore our fundamental freedoms — and our courts are the front lines," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of the affiliated Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement.

Eighty supreme court seats in 33 states will be on the ballot in November. Some justices will run against opponents (abortion was an issue in such an election this month in Georgia). Other incumbent justices face retention votes.

Typically, retention elections fly by unnoticed with little campaigning or media attention. But in the swing state of Arizona, two justices up for retention — Kathryn Hackett King and Clint Bolick — sided with the majority that decided the state's near-total abortion ban from 1864 superseded the state's 2022 law against abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Legislators rushed to repeal the 1864 law in a narrow vote, but a group called Progress Arizona is targeting Bolick and King with a campaign to vote them out.

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