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Democrats, Republican groups prep for costly state court abortion disputes

By Jake Beardslee · December 29, 2023

In brief…

  • Abortion rights and redistricting are shaping state supreme court races in 2024.
  • Partisan control of courts hangs in balance in states like Michigan and Ohio.
  • Experts say high-stakes issues will drive costly judicial campaigns.
State supreme court elections in 2024 are poised to be dominated by the issues of abortion rights and political redistricting.  Mathieu Landretti/Wikimedia

Abortion rights and political redistricting are shaping up to be defining issues in crucial but often overlooked state supreme court races in 2024, setting the stage for some of the most fiercely contested and expensive judicial elections in recent memory.

With the U.S. Supreme Court having overturned Roe v. Wade and shifted the abortion debate to the states, advocates on both sides of the issue are poised to pour tremendous sums into supreme court contests that could determine the fate of new restrictions and bans, according to Douglas Keith of the Brennan Center for Justice. “We have seen attention on state supreme court elections like never before and money in these races like never before,” Keith said, according to The Associated Press.

At least 38 lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions in 23 states are likely to end up before state supreme courts. Groups like the ACLU will be focused on cases in states including Ohio, Florida and Montana.

Redistricting is another lightning rod, with high courts being called upon to rule on legislative and congressional maps in states such as North Carolina. Groups aligned with both parties are also targeting Michigan, where the current 4-3 Democratic majority recently kept Donald Trump on the ballot over objections.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania gave a possible preview of 2024 in hard-fought 2023 races defined heavily by abortion politics. Democrats gained ground with big spending and messaging focused on reproductive rights. Even some traditionally conservative Southern states like Arkansas could see abortion emerge as an issue with open supreme court seats up for grabs.

Experts say recent trends signal a new highly partisan era for state judicial elections, with more money and fiercer clashes. “These races are just so utterly consequential in very tangible, practical ways,” said David Niven of the University of Cincinnati, AP reported.