Voters elected new Republican majorities to high courts in North Carolina and Ohio last week as candidates, parties and special interests poured record sums into midterm judicial races, reports Governing. Democrats spent millions in Illinois and Michigan to maintain control of supreme courts there, while conservatives failed to unseat justices in nonpartisan elections in several other states. The election outcomes are likely to affect issues such as abortion, voting rights and education. While both political parties spent heavily, new conservative political action committees poured record amounts into both nonpartisan and partisan races. “This may have been the most expensive midterm cycle ever for judicial elections nationally,” said Douglas Keith of the Brennan Center for Justice.
The Republican State Leadership Committee spent big in North Carolina and Ohio, the only two states in the past century to move from nonpartisan to partisan judicial elections. Both states’ high courts struck down gerrymandered districts, but Republican justices dissented. In Ohio, Republicans won three seats after outspending their Democratic rivals. In North Carolina, Republicans won their first majority on the high court since 2017. More than $15 million was spent on the race. NC Families First, which supported Democrats, spent nearly $4 million on ads suggesting that the Republicans wouldn’t protect abortion rights. A group called Stop Liberal Judges spent more on “soft on crime” attack ads accusing Democrats of “siding with rapists.” Both groups indirectly received millions from national organizations. The Democratic candidates spent around $2 million each, while the Republicans spent a combined total of around $1.6 million. The new GOP majority could roll back rulings by the Democratic majority on issues including criminal justice, education and voting rights.