State Supreme Court Races Face Mixed Results

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 9, 2022 – In Tuesday’s elections, voters across the country had the chance to weigh in on who will serve on several of our nation’s state supreme courts. These courts are as important as ever, serving as the final word on questions of abortion rights, access to democracy, criminal justice reform, access to justice, and the environment. 

There were significant victories for equal justice in Tuesday’s races. In Michigan, Justice Richard Bernstein retained his seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, and there is a key opportunity to appoint runner-up Kyra Harris Bolden to a remaining vacant seat. In Montana, Justice Ingrid Gayle Gustafson retained her seat. And in Kansas, the justices who had previously ruled that Kansas’s constitution protects access to abortion retained their seats despite efforts to oust them. It likewise appears Illinois will secure a Democratic supermajority on its Supreme Court, which will help ensure abortion access continues in the state, where there is heavy demand from the many surrounding Midwest states where millions are now being forced to carry even dangerous pregnancies to term. 

However, there were setbacks, particularly in states that had explicitly partisan judicial elections. In North Carolina, Republicans Trey Allen and Richard Dietz won their races, which will flip the Court from a 4–3 Democratic majority to a 5–2 Republican majority. In Ohio, Republicans Pat DeWine, Pat Fischer, and Sharon Kennedy won their races, cementing a Republican majority on the Ohio Supreme Court. This does not bode well for ongoing fights in North Carolina or Ohio regarding both abortion access and free and fair elections. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign Legal Director for State Courts Jake Faleschini issued the following statement: 

“Voters are awakening to how vital our state courts are to preserving the rights and protections we hold so dear. With unprecedented turnout during a midterm election, voters in states like Michigan, Illinois, and Kansas turned out to elect or retain judges who have demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and equal justice.  

“Unfortunately, Tuesday also saw conservatives solidify control of several important state courts. If the U.S. Supreme Court is going to keep dismantling federal civil rights and protections, we must continue to fight for state courts that will uphold them instead. We took an important step in that direction Tuesday, but we have a lot more work ahead to help voters understand the crucial role these courts play. If states are going to be increasingly relied upon to serve as laboratories of democracy, the fight must continue to ensure state courts are ready to protect the freedoms promised by that democracy. With crucial state supreme court races coming up in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2023, we must all start working now to secure victories in those states.” 

Anti-Abortion Incumbent Justice on Michigan Supreme Court Once Paid For Abortion

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 4, 2022 – It was reported this week that Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra paid for the abortion of his ex-wife Alyssa Jones while they were dating in 1983. Jones came forward to share this news as Zahra seeks reelection to the Court given his opposition to Proposal 3, a ballot initiative to guarantee abortion access under Michigan law. Zahra was one of two justices who dissented in a challenge to Proposal 3, arguing it should not be placed on the ballot merely because of word-spacing typos. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign Legal Director for State Courts Jake Faleschini issued the following statement: 

“In the wake of Dobbs, the American people are waking up to the reality of how judges can put their politics above fidelity to the law. The Supreme Court of Michigan is no different, but Michigan voters have a clear choice. As they go to the polls to protect access to abortion, not only can they vote for Proposal 3, but they can also vote against the hypocrisy of Justice Brian Zahra. Opposition to abortion is often motivated by power, and Zahra, a Federalist Society member, is an activist judge who wants rights for himself but then will blatantly misread the law to take it away from others. 

“That’s why AFJ Action is proud to support Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden to unseat Zahra. We look forward to seeing her become the first African American woman to sit on the Michigan Supreme Court, where she will follow the law and provide justice for all.” 

Click here to watch AFJ Action’s endorsement ad for Richard Bernstein and Kyra Harris Bolden. 

Paid for by AFJ Action and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.  

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AFJ Action Congratulates Progressive Nominees to Michigan Supreme Court

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 22, 2022 – This weekend, the Michigan Democratic Party nominated two Michigan Supreme Court candidates, Justice Richard Bernstein (for reelection) and Representative Kyra Harris Bolden, in the November election. The Michigan Supreme Court has played an essential role in protecting the democratic process, access to clean water, workers’ rights, civil rights, and more — and these nominees will ensure that work toward equal justice will continue. This is particularly important in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs as the state Supreme Court considers challenges to the enforcement of a 91-year-old pre-Roe abortion ban. 

Justice Richard Bernstein is seeking reelection to the Michigan Supreme Court, having built his legal career as a champion for disability rights. He launched a public service division at his family’s law firm and dedicated many pro bono hours to advocating for people with disabilities. He is the first blind justice to serve on the Court. 

Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden is fighting to unseat Justice Brian Zahra, who is an active member of the conservative Federalist Society. Bolden has served in the Michigan State House since 2019, and previously served in private practice focusing on civil litigation. She would bring professional diversity to the bench having served as a criminal defense attorney, unlike Zahra, whose career focused on defending the wealthy and powerful in commercial and product liability litigation. Bolden would also be the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. 

If Bernstein and Bolden both win their elections, Democrats will secure a 5–2 majority on the Michigan Supreme Court. The Alliance for Justice Action Campaign applauds their nominations this weekend. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign Legal Director for State Courts Jake Faleschini issued the following statement: 

“State courts have always been important, but in the wake of Dobbs they have become even more crucial. State courts will serve as a last line of defense in protecting abortion access and many other civil rights. For too long, conservatives have politicized the state courts with ideological nominees like Justice Zahra. Michiganders deserve better. The Michigan Democratic Party has nominated two excellent candidates in Justice Bernstein and Representative Bolden, and we can only hope other states take their Supreme Court elections as seriously. Too much is on the line to ignore the importance of our state courts to the lives of most people – especially at this critical moment.” 

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AFJ Action Calls For Court Expansion and Filibuster Abolition In Wake of Abortion Decision Leak

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C. May 3, 2022 – Last night, Politico published a draft opinion showing that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is planning to formally overturn people’s constitutional right to an abortion as established Roe v. Wade and affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The draft decision opens the door for the Supreme Court to overturn other important decisions such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a constitutional right to access to birth control, Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the constitutional right to marriage equality, and Lawrence v. Texas, which established the constitutional right to consensual same-sex relationships.   

The decision is not final, and Roe remains the law of the land, but the time to act is now. Lawmakers must be prepared to take extraordinary steps to correct for this lawless and increasingly partisan Supreme Court to protect people’s constitutional right to abortion, marriage equality, access to birth control, and interracial marriage. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement: 

“This draft decision is the product of Republicans’ decades-long campaign to stack the Court with hyper-partisan extremists. The Republican senators who helped seat the Court’s extremists must be held accountable and not allowed to return to office.  

“Alliance for Justice Action Campaign is redoubling its efforts to educate the public on the disastrous decision, and to hold Republican officials accountable for their ongoing attacks on reproductive freedom. This year’s election could not be more pivotal. If the current Democratic majority in Congress is unable to accomplish these goals, that majority must not only be preserved, but expanded. Fighting to preserve access to abortion and the other rights clearly under threat is essential.  

“The words ‘Expand the Court’ and ‘Abolish the Filibuster’ must be on the lips of every politician who purports to support access to abortion.  Dismantling the anti-democratic Jim Crow filibuster is the only path forward to protecting our rights. Access to abortion, a fundamental aspect of reproductive health care, now depends on passing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and ensuring the Court’s conservative majority cannot simply overturn it in a future decision.  

“It is also more important than ever that voters pay attention to their state court races. Until abortion access can be restored at the federal level, state supreme courts will have the final say on abortion restrictions across the country. In many states, the judges and justices on these courts are elected, and voters have a unique opportunity to weigh in directly in a way that is not available at the federal level. 

“We can prevail, but we must act now. We know where this Supreme Court wants to take our nation and we can’t afford to fail.” 

AFJAC Commits to Six-Figure Advocacy Campaigns, Voter Education and Mobilization Efforts in Response to SCOTUS Overruling Roe v. Wade

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 2, 2021 – AFJ Action Campaign announced today its commitment to six-figure advocacy campaigns in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona highlighting yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to ignore long-established precedent and overrule Roe v. Wade. Because of that decision, which was issued by five ultraconservative justices — including all three Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — the people of Texas no longer have a full constitutional right to an abortion. AFJAC expects that the Court’s decision will lead to further unconstitutional abortion bans around the country, and AFJAC may launch additional campaigns into other states as part of its fight to maintain and strengthen a pro-Roe majority in the U.S. Senate.

Additionally, AFJAC also announced today that it is launching a new campaign focused on voter education and mobilization around state courts. As the federal judiciary retreats from the Constitution’s unwavering commitment to liberty and bodily autonomy, state courts will become ground zero in this fight. AFJAC will ensure that concerned citizens are made aware of what state courts can and should do in the fight to preserve people’s safe and constitutional access to reproductive healthcare.

The Court’s 5–4 decision is the culmination of a forty-year campaign by the Republican Party, Federalist Society, and the ultraconservative members of the Court to overturn Roe. The decision opens the door for other Republican-led states to quickly enact laws similar to SB8 in Texas. That law bans abortion at six weeks — before many people even know they are pregnant, and before 85 to 90 percent of abortions occur — and outsources enforcement to anti-abortion extremists using public bounties. There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, or the safety of the parent.

Three of the five ultraconservative justices that signed on to the Court’s decision, as well as two of the Fifth Circuit judges who blocked a district court hearing into the constitutionality of the law, were appointed by President Donald Trump. During his election campaign and presidency, Trump promised that overturning Roe “will happen automatically” because he put “pro-life justices on the court.”

AFJAC vigorously opposed the confirmation of Justices Thomas and Alito and each of Trump’s Supreme Court justices. Each of these jurists was already on-record in favor of overturning Roe. An AFJAC fact sheet including each of the Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justices’ pre-confirmation records on Roe can be found here.

AFJAC also opposed the Trump-appointed Fifth Circuit judges Duncan and Engelhardt and Reagan appointee Edith Jones, who first overruled the stay on the Texas abortion ban made their decision possible.

Dissenting from yesterday’s decision, Justice Sonya Sotomayor called the Court’s actions “stunning.” She noted that, despite being presented with an “application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law,” the Court’s ultraconservative bloc “opted to bury their heads in the sand.” Justice Elena Kagan also harshly criticized the Court’s ultraconservatives for issuing the decision under cover of darkness using the Court’s “shadow-docket” to overturn nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent. Kagan underscored that the decision is “emblematic” of the Court’s recent unprincipled and lawless shadow-docket decisions, which “every day [become] more un-reasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend.”

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Nan Aron issued the following statement:

“By overturning Roe, the Court has ensured that innocent people will die in their pursuit of critically important and constitutionally protected reproductive healthcare. This is a lawless decision from an out-of-control Court, and we are preparing to go to war to protect our constitutional rights and freedoms. Republicans must be held accountable for confirming the three illegitimate Trump justices that made this decision possible, and they are responsible for this horrendous moment in our nation’s history. AFJAC will ensure that these Republican senators remember whose side they were on come election day in November 2022.

“Rising to this moment demands rapid action. We must protect our Court and Constitution by adding justices to the Supreme Court that will faithfully observe the Constitution and protect the rule of law. Congress must also expeditiously pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to invalidate SB8, and protect against future abortion bans in other states. Finally, the Biden administration and Senate Democrats must continue to prioritize filling every vacancy on the federal bench by 2022. As with President Biden’s nominees thus far, those judges should have a demonstrated commitment to equal justice, including equality for women and other vulnerable populations.”

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