Fair Courts E-Lert: State Supreme Court Election Roundup

November 9, 2018


Brennan Center for Justice Fair Courts


law and justice


North Carolina – Attorney Anita Earls Defeats Justice Barbara Jackson; Voters Reject Judicial Nomination Amendment

Civil rights attorney Anita Earls (D) won her bid for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, defeating Associate Justice Barbara Jackson (R) and Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin (R). Earls won by a margin of 49 percent to Jackson’s 34 percent and Anglin’s 16 percent, shifting the state’s highest court to a 5-2 Democratic majority.

Earls raised over three times as much as her incumbent opponent and benefited from over $700,000 in outside spending on television ads. Another contributing factor, according to The News & Observer was the decision of the Republican-controlled legislature in 2017 to cancel judicial primaries, which split the Republican vote.

Voters also defeated a constitutional amendment – by a margin of nearly 67 to 33 percent – that would have given the legislature significant new authority to fill judicial vacancies. All five of the state’s living former governors, both Republicans and Democrats, opposed the amendment.



West Virginia – Evan Jenkins and Tim Armstead, Temporary Republican Appointees, Win Election to the Supreme Court of Appeals

Two judges appointed after the resignation of two West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justices earlier this year won re-election on Tuesday.

In August, the West Virginia House voted to impeach the four jurists after questions arose about expensive, state funded office renovations and other misuse of state resources. Two justices resigned, triggering special elections for two seats on the court. Gov. Jim Justice (R) appointed West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead and Congressman Evan Jenkins to temporarily fill the seats until the election.

Twenty candidates competed in the nonpartisan general election, 10 for each of the two open seats. Interim Justices Armstead and Jenkins won, benefiting from $1.7 million in support from the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative, a national organization working to “elect down-ballot, state-level conservatives to the judiciary.” Armstead and Jenkins received 26 and 36 percent of the votes, respectively.

Voters also approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to reduce the budget of the state judiciary, which lawmakers added to the ballot in response to the spending scandal.

Michigan – Justice Elizabeth Clement and Attorney Megan Cavanagh Win Election to the Michigan Supreme Court

Incumbent Justice Elizabeth Clement (R) and attorney Megan Cavanagh (D) were elected to the Michigan Supreme Court, defeating incumbent Justice Kurtis Wilder (R), law professor Samuel Bagenstos (D), attorney Doug Dern (Natural Law Party), and attorney Kerry Lee Morgan (Libertarian).

Clement, appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, received the highest share of votes. Clement previously said she faced “bullying and intimidation” while considering a case about whether a voter-initiated redistricting proposal could appear on the ballot. Clement voted to allow the ballot measure, which state Republicans opposed. Voters approved the redistricting amendment on Election Day.

The Michigan Republican Party then left her name off campaign materials, and supported the two Republican incumbents unequally. The party spent over $300,000 on advertisements supporting Wilder, but only $37,000 on ads supporting Clement. Megan Cavanagh received the second highest share of votes, defeating incumbent Justice Wilder despite Wilder’s support from Republicans and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.



Upcoming Symposium: Advice & Consent: The Senate’s Changing Role in Judicial Confirmations

On November 15, the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, the NYU Law & Government Society, and the Brennan Center for Justice will host a public symposium about the changing role of the Senate’s “advice and consent” role in the federal judicial nomination process.

Changes in procedures and politics have led to President Trump’s appointment of more appeals court judges than any other president in a generation. The symposium will examine the ways in which advice and consent has evolved, what advice and consent should mean in the current political and cultural climate, and what institutional changes we might want to see in the Senate going forward.

Speakers include: Victoria Bassetti, Bob Bauer, Todd Cox, Praveen Fernandes, Jamil Jaffer, Eric Lesh, Kristine Lucius, Gregg Nunziata, David Pozen, and Russell Wheeler.

RSVP to attend the symposium.