State Profiles, 2011-2012

Part I: States with Candidate Races

Appendix lists those races for which estimated fundraising or spending data is available.

Alabama, Contested Election

Four of the five open seats on the Supreme Court went uncontested in the 2012 general election. The chief justice race became surprisingly heated, however, when former Chief Justice Roy Moore—best known for being removed from his position in 2003 after defying a federal court order to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the Alabama Judicial Building—won the Republican nomination. His Democratic opponent Robert Vance attracted some traditionally Republican supporters who viewed Moore as too extreme, and Vance spent more than $1 million in 77 days in an effort to win the chief justice seat. Despite being vastly outspent, however, Moore won the race for his old seat.

National Ranking

TV Spending$3,375,9104
Candidate Fundraising$4,053,1311

Arizona, Retention Election

A controversial state Supreme Court ruling fueled a retention challenge in Arizona in 2012. State tea party members and factions of the Arizona Republican Party called for voters to unseat Justice John Pelander, citing a ruling he participated in two months before the election that allowed voters to consider a ballot proposal to end the state’s two-party primary system. (A Republican precinct chair also sent out flyers to every Republican in her precinct urging them to vote not to retain any of the state’s appellate judges up for retention who were appointed by former Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. That effort was not successful.)

With a modest expenditure of $5,000, Pelander won retention with 74 percent of the vote.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$5,00021

Arkansas, Contested Election

Arkansas Court of Appeals judges Josephine Linker Hart and Raymond Abramson vied for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated by Justice Jim Gunter, who did not seek reelection. Both candidates broadcast television ads touting their experience and background. Judge Hart described herself as “a no-nonsense judge,” emphasizing her experience in the Army JAG Corps and stating that her husband of 28 years “is still my best friend.” Judge Abramson emphasized his “small-town values” and his experience as a judge and an attorney. The non-partisan election was held on May 22, 2012, and Judge Hart won the open seat.

National Ranking

TV Spending$168,41013
Candidate Fundraising$209,23017

Florida, Retention Election

Florida’s retention race saw a concerted effort by conservative groups to unseat three sitting Florida Supreme Court justices (Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and R. Fred Lewis), including approximately $155,000 on television ads and other advocacy spending by Americans for Prosperity. Defend Justice from Politics, a pro-retention group, responded strongly, blanketing the airways with more than 2,140 ad spots in support of the three justices and spending an estimated $3.1 million on air time. It marked the first time that campaign ad spending exceeded $1 million in any merit selection state since the New Politics report began tracking judicial races in 1999–2000. All three justices retained their seats.

National Ranking

TV Spending$3,108,1905
Candidate Fundraising$1,529,0209

Georgia, Contested Election (Unopposed)

Four seats were originally expected to be up for election in Georgia in 2012—those belonging to Justices Carol Hunstein, Harold Melton, Hugh Thompson, and George Carley. As Georgia’s Supreme Court is composed of seven justices, this election would have determined the makeup of more than half the court. Several months prior to the election, Justice Carley announced his retirement, leaving Governor Nathan Deal to appoint his successor, Keith Blackwell, who will stand for election in 2014. Justices Hunstein, Melton, and Thompson each ran unopposed and won reelection.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$183,40218

Illinois, Contested & Retention Election

In 2012, Illinois held an election for the Supreme Court’s First District seat, which was formerly held by Justice Thomas Fitzgerald. This seat is voted upon by residents of Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago. Justice Mary Jane Theis, who was appointed to succeed Fitzgerald when he retired in 2010, ran for election to a full six-year term, facing off against three opponents in the Democratic primary. Theis spent close to $1.2 million on TV advertisements in the primary, while the pro-choice group Personal PAC reportedly spent $200,000 in print ads attacking Theis’s opponent, Illinois Appellate Court Judge Aurelia Pucinski, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Theis won the primary on March 20, 2012, and subsequently defeated Judge James G. Riley of the Cook County 4th Subcircuit Court, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, in the general election. Sitting Justice Rita Garman also won a retention election.

National Ranking

TV Spending$1,334,1709
Candidate Fundraising$2,285,1987

Iowa, Retention Election

In 2012, Justice David Wiggins, who participated in the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision finding a right to marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa, stood for a retention election. Opponents of the marriage decision campaigned for his ouster, broadcasting two television ads about the marriage decision and going on a bus tour around the state featuring out-of-state politicians such as Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal; opponents spent approximately $466,000 in total. While Justice Wiggins did not fundraise, other supporters spent approximately $367,000 in a campaign in support of his retention. Justice Wiggins won his retention election. Three other justices who did not participate in the 2009 marriage decision and did not face an anti-retention challenge, Justices Bruce B. Zager, Edward Mansfield, and Thomas D. Waterman, also won retention elections in 2012.

National Ranking

TV Spending$163,60014
Candidate Fundraising$0No rank

Kentucky, Contested Election

In 2012, incumbent Justice William T. Scott faced Judge Janet Stumbo, a judge on the Court of Appeals who previously served on the Supreme Court from 1993 until Scott defeated her in 2004. The race turned nasty, with an ad from Justice Scott accusing Judge Stumbo of “sid[ing] with criminals fifty-nine percent of the time.” Judge Stumbo issued a reply ad accusing Justice Scott of “airing misleading ads.” Justice Scott won reelection in the non-partisan race.

National Ranking

TV Spending$131,85015
Candidate Fundraising$363,19114

Louisiana, Contested Election

In Louisiana, eight candidates competed in the November 6, 2012 election to replace retiring Justice Kitty Kimball. Jefferson Hughes and John Guidry squared off in a run-off election on December 8. In the lead-up to the December 8 run-off, the Clean Water and Land PAC released a television ad accusing Guidry of “hiding his liberal record,” while Guidry released an ad stating that Hughes “suspended the sentence of a cocaine dealer, of a man who killed a state trooper, . . . and over half the sentence of a child rapist.” Hughes defeated Guidry.

National Ranking

TV Spending$1,925,5007
Candidate Fundraising$2,644,2716

Michigan, Contested Election

With the Supreme Court’s 4-3 conservative majority on the line in 2012, Democrats Connie Kelley, Shelia Johnson, and Bridget McCormack faced off against Republicans Brian Zahra, Steven Markman, and Colleen O’Brien, with money pouring into the race from political parties and outside groups. Michigan’s Supreme Court race was the most expensive in the 2011–12 cycle, with estimated spending between $13 million and $18.9 million. Although party affiliation does not appear on the ballot, parties select the candidates and the state Democratic and Republican parties were the main spenders in the 2012 races—and the top two spenders nationally. Twenty-one percent of the TV ad spots broadcast in Michigan were negative in tone. McCormack, Zahra, and Markman each won seats on the Supreme Court, which retained its 4-3 conservative majority.

National Ranking

TV Spending$8,862,2201
Candidate Fundraising$3,419,1873

Minnesota, Contested Election

There were three seats up for election in the 2012 Minnesota Supreme Court race. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea was challenged by attorney Dan Griffith, Justice Barry Anderson ran against Dean Barkley, former campaign manager for Governor Jesse Ventura, and Justice David R. Stras was challenged by magistrate Tim Tingelstad. All incumbent justices were reelected.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$260,31716

Mississippi, Contested Election

In Mississippi, there were four positions open on the Supreme Court in 2012, with three of the races contested. Most of the spending centered around the race for District Three, Position Three, where Josiah Dennis Coleman faced off against Richard “Flip” Phillips to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice George Carlson. The Improve Mississippi PAC and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America both issued negative ads against Phillips, accusing him of siding with plaintiff trial lawyers. Phillips responded with an ad stating “Don’t let special interests buy our court.” On Election Day, Coleman defeated Phillips. Chief Justice William L. Waller, Jr. and Justice Michael K. Randolph also won their respective races, and Justice Leslie King ran unopposed.

National Ranking

TV Spending$2,306,9906
Candidate Fundraising$1,793,7428

Montana, Contested & Retention Election

In Montana, two Supreme Court seats were on the ballot in 2012. Justice Brian Morris faced a retention election, while Judge Laurie McKinnon of the 9th District Court of Montana, attorney Elizabeth Best, and attorney Ed Sheehy competed in the state’s primary election for the seat of Justice James Nelson, who was not seeking reelection. McKinnon and Sheehy both moved on to the general election, where McKinnon emerged victorious. During the campaign, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a Montana law that prohibited political parties from endorsing judicial candidates. However, both McKinnon and Sheehy announced that they would not accept party endorsements because doing so was barred by the state judicial code of conduct. Sheehy went further and refused to accept any endorsements, while McKinnon accepted endorsements from conservative groups such as the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

National Ranking

TV Spending$22,11017
Candidate Fundraising$329,38415

New Mexico, Contested & Retention Election

Two seats on the New Mexico Supreme Court were up for election in 2012. In one race, Justice Paul Kennedy, who had been appointed by Governor Susana Martinez earlier in 2012 following the retirement of Justice Patricio Serna, faced off against District Court Judge Barbara Vigil. Judge Vigil defeated Justice Kennedy and will fill the remainder of Justice Serna’s unexpired term. In a second race, Justice Richard Bosson stood for a retention election, in which he retained his seat. In New Mexico, judges are initially selected by competitive elections and then stand for retention elections for subsequent terms. In the event a judge steps down in the middle of a term, the vacancy is filled by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by a judicial nominating commission, and the appointee must then compete in the next general election to serve the remainder of the unexpired term.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$166,37320

North Carolina, Contested Election

Incumbent Justice Paul Newby faced off against challenger Judge Sam Ervin IV in a race with the potential to shift the 4-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.  Both candidates accepted public financing for their 2012 campaigns, but outside money in support of Justice Newby flooded the race, with 85 percent of total TV spending coming from outside groups. Justice Newby held on to his seat, maintaining the conservative majority on the high court.

National Ranking

TV Spending$3,585,4003
Candidate Fundraising$173,01119
Public Funds$480,2002

Ohio, Contested Election

Three positions on the Ohio Supreme Court were up for election in 2012, two full-term seats and one partial-term seat that expires on December 31, 2014. Incumbent Terrence O’Donnell faced off against Michael Skindell; Robert Cupp faced off against Bill O’Neill; and incumbent Yvette McGee Brown, who was appointed to the Court on an interim basis, faced off against Sharon Kennedy. Ohio led the nation in TV spending over the 2000-09 decade, but spending was relatively lower in 2012. Ohio nevertheless was the home of one of 2011-12’s most negative TV ads, in which the Ohio Republican Party said that O’Neill “expressed sympathy for rapists” while serving as a judge. O’Donnell, O’Neill, and Kennedy won their respective races.

National Ranking

TV Spending$1,736,8808
Candidate Fundraising$3,467,4462

Oklahoma, Retention Election

In Oklahoma, Supreme Court justices Douglas Combs, James Edmondson, Norma Gurich, and Yvonne Kauger sought retention in 2012. Supporters of the justices formed “Yes for Fair and Impartial Judges” after the state Chamber of Commerce released its first-ever ratings of justices. Each candidate received low ratings from the chamber group, which critics said was an unfair assessment that only looked at a small percentage of the court’s decisions. Yes for Fair and Impartial Judges spent more than $450,000 on a pro-retention ad that aired the week before the election. The four justices were retained.

National Ranking

TV Spending$453,14012
Candidate Fundraising$0No rank

Oregon, Contested Election

In Oregon, three Supreme Court seats were on the ballot in 2012. Justice Virginia Linder and Oregon Court of Appeals Chief Judge David V. Brewer ran unopposed, while Judge Richard C. Baldwin of the Multnomah County Circuit Court, Judge Timothy Sercombe of the Court of Appeals, and attorney Nena Cook competed in a primary for the third seat. Baldwin and Cook squared off in the general election, with Baldwin winning the seat. Baldwin and Cook both spent money on TV advertisements.

National Ranking

TV Spending$101,63016
Candidate Fundraising$792,17611

Pennsylvania, Retention Election

In 2011, J. Michael Eakin stood for retention in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, raising approximately $630,000 and ultimately retaining his seat. In Pennsylvania, judges are initially selected by competitive elections and then stand for retention elections for subsequent terms. The state ranked second in overall spending for the 2009-2010 election cycle.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$629,75612

Texas, Contested Election

Texas had elections for three Supreme Court seats in 2012. Justice Don Willett won one seat after defeating former Supreme Court Justice Steve Smith in the Republican primary and Libertarian Party candidate Robert Stuart Koelsch in the general election. Former District Judge John Devine won a seat after defeating Justice David Medina and attorney Joe Pool in the Republican primary, and Libertarian Party candidate Tom Oxford and Green Party candidate Charles Waterbury in the general election. Neither Willett nor Devine had a Democratic opponent in the general election. Justice Nathan Hecht ran unopposed in the Republican primary and defeated Democratic candidate Michele Petty, Libertarian Party candidate Mark Ash, and Green Party candidate Jim Chisholm in the general election. Justice Willett was the only candidate to spend money on TV ads; he spent nearly $1.2 million on advertisements in the Republican primary.

National Ranking

TV Spending$1,167,93011
Candidate Fundraising$3,206,6145

Washington, Contested Election

In Washington, public defender Sheryl McCloud defeated former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders for the seat of departing Justice Tom Chambers. Incumbent Justices Steven Gonzalez and Susan Owens were also up for election. Both justices received more than 50 percent of the primary vote and advanced unopposed to the general election.

National Ranking

TV Spending$0No rank
Candidate Fundraising$1,288,37910

West Virginia, Contested Election

In 2012, following an eight-person primary, two Republicans (Allen Loughry and John Yoder) and two Democrats (Letitia “Tish” Chafin and incumbent Justice Robin Jean Davis) faced off in the general election for two Supreme Court seats. Chafin self-funded 71 percent of her campaign, while Davis self-funded 62 percent. Neither sought public financing. Loughry, who participated in West Virginia’s pilot public financing program, and incumbent Justice Davis won the two seats.

National Ranking

TV Spending$1,257,11010
Candidate Fundraising$3,322,3704
Public Funds$363,7053

Wisconsin, Contested Election

Wisconsin’s off-year 2011 Supreme Court race drew intense attention, with groups seeking to recast the race between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg as a referendum on Governor Scott Walker following his controversial decision to change the state’s collective bargaining process. Special interest groups spent just under $3.6 million on TV ads—a new record for independent TV spending—and overall spending in the state was about $5 million. Prosser narrowly won the race, following a recount, maintaining the court’s conservative majority. Three groups bankrolling Wisconsin spending in 2011 were among the top 10 spenders nationally in 2011-12: the labor-friendly Greater Wisconsin Committee ($1.4 million); the pro-business Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce ($911,000); and the conservative Citizens for A Strong America ($836,000).

National Ranking

TV Spending$3,957,2502
Candidate Fundraising$563,26913
Public Funds$800,0001

Part II: States with Ballot Measures


Arizona’s Proposition 115 would have given Arizona’s governor increased control over membership of the state’s judicial nominating commission, and would have reduced the influence of the state bar. It also would have ended a mandate for bi-partisan representation on lists of judicial finalists sent to the governor and would have required the nominating commission to submit eight names to the governor, not three. The measure was conceived as a compromise reached over a 2011 bill introduced in the Republican-controlled legislature, which would have eliminated the state’s merit selection system entirely. The measure failed.

Total spending$150,394
Supporter spending$400
Opponent spending$149,994


Amendment 5 would have required Senate confirmation of the governor’s Supreme Court appointees, empowered the legislature to override any Florida Supreme Court administrative decision with a simple majority rather than a supermajority, and given legislators access to confidential records of the commission that investigates complaints against judges. The measure failed.

Total spending$227,584
Supporter spending$0
Opponent spending$227,584*

* The Vote No Committee spent a total of $227,584 opposing three ballot measures: Amendment 5 and two non-court-related measures. Campaign materials produced by the Committee discussed the three measures jointly.


In Missouri, Amendment 3 would have allowed each new governor to control a majority of seats on the state’s judicial nominating commission. It also would have increased the number of finalists submitted to the governor from three to four. The measure failed.

Total spending$1,182,958
Supporter spending$79,900
Opponent spending$1,103,058

Appendix B

Television Ad Details,

An appendix containing a comprehensive list of all television advertisements aired in 2011-2012, as captured by Kantar Media/CMAG, is available here. Information on ad sponsorship, spot count, and estimated cost was provided by Kantar Media/CMAG. The coding of ad content, including tone and subject matter, was done by the Brennan Center for Justice.