Alabama

Election Type: Partisan election

The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court saw no change in its political composition when three incumbents won re-election in 2016. Michael F. Bolin and Kelli A. Wise, both Republicans, faced no opposition, and Tom Parker defeated his Republican rival, attorney Donna J. Beaulieu, in a primary.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $262,319 19
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $262,319 18
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: 0 N/A

Arkansas

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

In contested races for two Arkansas Supreme Court seats in 2016, overall spending of $2.4 million and TV spending of $1.2 million set state records. The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative spent an estimated $120,450 on airtime for broadcast TV ads opposing attorney Clark Mason in his race with Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, and the Judicial Crisis Network spent an estimated $554,840 to air TV ads opposing Justice Courtney Goodson, running against Circuit Judge Dan Kemp for chief justice. Goodson was a top 10 fundraiser, pulling in more than $1.02 million, yet she lost to Kemp. Mason lost to Womack.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $2,404,766 11
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $1,729,476 8
Group spending total/rank: $675,290 11
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $1,240,730 10

Georgia

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Justice David E. Nahmias won reelection to the Georgia Supreme Court without an opponent in 2016, raising $186,429. Other new justices joined the court after the legislature voted to approve Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to expand the court from seven to nine justices. In November 2016, Deal appointed Appeals Court Judge Nels Peterson and state Solicitor General Britt Grant to newly created seats and Appeals Court Judge Michael Boggs to succeed a justice who retired.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $186,429 20
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $186,429 19
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: 0 N/A

Idaho

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

After a May 2016 primary that saw the defeat of state Sen. Curtis McKenzie and Court of Appeals Judge Sergio A. Gutierrez, attorney Robyn Brody and Deputy Idaho Attorney General Clive J. Strong advanced to an autumn runoff for an open seat on the high court. Brody spent more than $308,000 and defeated Strong, who spent approximately $64,000. Justice Roger S. Burdick was unopposed in his successful re-election bid. Total spending was $431,258.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $431,258 17
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $431,258 16
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $39,730 N/A

Kansas

Election Type: Merit selection

The nation’s most costly and contentious retention election during the 2015-16 cycle occurred in Kansas. Four justices were targeted by interest groups and elected officials over a controversial ruling in a death penalty case and over political issues; all of the justices were given a new term by voters in 2016. Justices Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Carol Beier and Daniel Biles retained their seats, as did a fifth who was not targeted, Caleb Stegall. Approximately $2.07 million was spent on the election, a state record, according to TV spending estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG and ad contracts posted to the FCC’s website.  Total spending was likely higher, however, because Kansas does not require candidate committees or outside groups to disclose judicial election spending to campaign finance authorities.  Total TV spending hit a Kansas record of an estimated $2.04 million, all of it by outside groups. It was the first time since at least 2000, when the Brennan Center began collecting data, that Kansas saw TV spending in a supreme court retention election.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $2,073,937 12
Candidate fundraising total/rank: 0 N/A
Group spending total/rank: $2,073,937 7
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $2,041,220 7

Kentucky (2015)

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Appeals Court Judge Janet L. Stumbo marginally outspent Circuit Judge Sam Wright III in a race for another single-district seat. Wright won election.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $426,624 18
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $426,624 17
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $1,640 18

Kentucky (2016)

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Appeals Court Judge Larry VanMeter outspent fellow Judge Glenn E. Acree by $449,846 to $38,854 in a 2016 race for a single-district seat and defeated Acree.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $488,700 15
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $488,700 14
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $129,680 16

Louisiana

Election Type: Partisan election

Charter schools and energy corporations appeared to be at the center of spending in the 2016 Louisiana Supreme Court election, which set an overall record for the state at nearly $5 million and a state TV spending record of $2.5 million. Court of Appeals Judge Jimmy Genovese received over $1.39 million in contributions in his successful campaign for an open seat, while his opponent, state district court Judge Marilyn Castle, received more than $670,000. Both sides attracted major outside spending, and Genovese was outspent on the airwaves. The largest outside spender was the Center for Individual Freedom, which does not disclose its donors, which supported Castle. Incumbent Justice Marcus R. Clark also ran unopposed for a new term on the court.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $4,912,154 4
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $2,408,179 4
Group spending total/rank: $2,503,976 5
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $2,511,800 6

Michigan

Election Type: Partisan nomination; Nonpartisan general election

Incumbent Republican Justices David Viviano and Joan Larsen won reelection in 2016 after benefitting from heavy dark-money spending and amassing lopsided fundraising totals over their opponents. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce spent more than $2.2 million in support of the incumbents; meanwhile, Viviano outraised Judge Frank Szymanski, a Democrat, and Doug Dern of the Natural Law Party by 23:1, and Larsen outraised Circuit Judge Deborah A. Thomas, a Democrat, by 8:1. Of $3.1 million in documented independent spending, 86 percent was not reported in state campaign finance filings.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $4,326,234 6
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $1,214,963 9
Group spending total/rank: $3,111,271 4
Party spending total/rank: $455,685 1
TV spending total/rank: $2,715,890 5

Minnesota

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Spending was relatively low ($64,879) in a three-way 2016 contest for a Minnesota Supreme Court seat that saw incumbent Justice Natalie E. Hudson defeat attorney Michelle L. MacDonald in the general election. Attorney Craig Foss was defeated in an earlier primary. It was the first state supreme court election for Hudson, appointed to the court in 2015; she raised $64,669, and MacDonald, $210.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $64,879 22
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $64,879 21
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: 0 N/A

Mississippi

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Unions and trial lawyers lined up in 2016 in support of incumbent Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens. Court of Appeals Judge T. Kenneth Griffis, the challenger, received contributions from medical, insurance, and corporate defense lawyers and business interests, and benefitted from outside spending by a PAC supported by the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and Mississippi Realtors, among others. Kitchens won reelection despite $1.2 million in independent spending that benefitted his opponent; Kitchens raised over $724,000, compared to over $519,000 reported by Griffis. Elections for three other seats attracted far less spending. Incumbents Dawn H. Beam and James D. Maxwell won new terms, while Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin prevailed in a run-off election.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $3,237,874 9
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $2,004,464 6
Group spending total/rank: $1,233,410 9
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $1,858,710 8

Montana

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

District Judge Dirk Sandefur defeated law professor Kristen Juras for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court in 2016. Sandefur was heavily supported by trial lawyers, while Juras received her support from conservative and business interests, including StopSetemFreeSandefur.com, which was almost entirely funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative. Outside groups invested $985,684 in independent expenditures, the vast majority in support of Sandefur. Overall spending of more than $1.8 million set a record for the state, as did TV spending of more than $418,000. Also winning election were incumbents Jim Shea and Mike McGrath. They ran unopposed.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $1,834,803 13
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $782,351 12
Group spending total/rank: $985,684 10
Party spending total/rank: $66,769 3
TV spending total/rank: $418,340 12

New Mexico

Election Type: Partisan election

When Justice Judith K. Nakamura won election over Court of Appeals Judge Michael E. Vigil in 2016, Nakamura became the first Republican woman elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Both candidates participated in the state’s public financing program, and their race was marked by relatively low spending, positive television ads, and no outside TV advertising. Incumbent Justice Barbara J. Vigil also won a new term in a retention election.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $464,266 16
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $464,266 15
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $212,590 15

North Carolina

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

In a high-profile 2016 election rife with tensions over racial gerrymandering, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan defeated incumbent Justice Robert Edmunds Jr., flipping the ideological balance of the North Carolina Supreme Court from a Republican to Democratic majority. Both candidates benefited from millions of dollars in outside spending. Morgan received an endorsement from President Obama. Total TV spending approached $3.5 million, and overall spending surpassed $5.4 million. Three leading outside spenders, North Carolina Families First ($1.7 million in support of Morgan), the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce ($1.45 million in support of Edmunds), and Fair Judges ($1.18 million) ranked among the top 10 outside spenders nationally.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $5,419,151 2
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $672,230 13
Group spending total/rank: $4,746,921 2
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $3,493,320 3

North Dakota

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

With two North Dakota Supreme Court seats on the ballot, incumbent Justice Lisa Fair McEvers was reelected without an opponent in 2016, and District Judge Jerod Elton Tufte defeated attorney Robert V. Bolinske Sr. The latter race was the first for an open seat on the court in 24 years. 1

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $51,052 23
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $51,052 22
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: 0 N/A

Ohio

Election Type: Partisan primary; Nonpartisan general election

Republicans retained their 6-1 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court after the 2016 election, as Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor secured re-election without an opponent and Appeals Court Judges Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine defeated Democrats John P. O’Donnell, a common pleas court judge, and Cynthia Rice, an appeals court judge, respectively. The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative spent $233,960 in support of the three winning candidates. Overall spending was over $3.3 million.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $3,353,641 8
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $3,117,471 3
Group spending total/rank: $233,960 12
Party spending total/rank: $2,210 5
TV spending total/rank: $1,321,670 9

Pennsylvania

Election Type: Retention election

With the partisan balance of the scandal-plagued Pennsylvania Supreme Court at stake, candidates and outside groups engaged in a 2015 spending free-for-all ($15.6 million and $5.7 million respectively) that easily set a new national record ($21.4 million). Democrats Kevin Dougherty, David Wecht and Christine Donohue outspent their Republican rivals and swept three open seats, giving Democrats a 5-2 majority on the court.  The winners, along with Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, a group funded by trial lawyers and unions that supported the Democratic candidates, were four out of the nation’s five biggest spenders. Outside spending by Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform ($4.1 million) and the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative ($1.5 million), when combined, surpassed total spending in any other state supreme court contest in 2015-16. TV spending of $12.4 million also set a national record for a state supreme court election.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $21,417,860 1
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $15,660,616 1
Group spending total/rank: $5,749,055 1
Party spending total/rank: $8,190 4
TV spending total/rank: $12,400,720 1

Tennessee

Election Type: Retention election

Three Tennessee Supreme Court justices, all initially appointed by a Republican governor, won new terms after facing no organized anti-retention effort. It was a sharp contrast to two years earlier when three justices first appointed by Democratic governors faced a rigorous ouster drive but stayed on the court amid record spending. Justices Jeff Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger A. Page easily won their 2016 retention votes.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $105,108 21
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $105,108 20
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: 0 N/A

Texas

Election Type: Partisan election

When three incumbents ran for re-election to the Texas Supreme Court in 2016, their sweep maintained 9-0 Republican control of the court. Justices Paul Green, Eva Guzman, and Debra Lehrmann all won new terms after contested primary and general elections.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $4,205,358 7
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $4,205,358 2
Group spending total/rank: 0 N/A
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $341,130 13

Washington

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Despite $1.4 million spent by outside groups and the state’s Republican party to unseat them, incumbent Justices Barbara Madsen, Charles Wiggins, and Mary Yu won reelection to the Washington Supreme Court in 2016. The justices saw only $349,000 in outside group support. The court had ruled in 2015 that charter schools controlled by appointed boards could not receive public funds, and the justices seeking reelection were vigorously opposed by pro-charter school groups and individuals. Charter school enthusiast Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives wrote checks to help fund anti-incumbent groups.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $2,790,726 10
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $1,060,942 11
Group spending total/rank: $1,480,455 8
Party spending total/rank: $249,365 2
TV spending total/rank: $237,690 14

West Virginia

Election Type:

A five-way contest for one seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2016 attracted nearly $3 million in outside spending, including over $2 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative, and saw TV ad spending of $4.2 million for a state record. Attorney Beth Walker, who benefitted from the Judicial Fairness Initiative effort, defeated incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin, ex-state legislator William “Bill” Wooton, attorney Wayne King, and former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw Jr. Both Benjamin and Wooton participated in the state’s public financing system.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $4,963,973 3
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $1,972,290 7
Group spending total/rank: $2,991,682 3
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $4,203,576 2

Wisconsin

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

In another million-dollar-plus election, incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley outspent her challenger, Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, by more than two-to-one margin and won her third 10-year term. Voters also passed a constitutional amendment to change the way the court chooses its chief justice — from a seniority system to a vote among the justices.  Following the amendment, Shirley Abrahamson was replaced as chief justice by Patience Roggensack.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $1,196,620 14
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $1,149,686 10
Group spending total/rank: $46,934 13
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $530,590 11

Wisconsin

Election Type: Nonpartisan election

Often a state supreme court election battleground, Wisconsin saw over $4.7 million spent in the fight for a single seat. Incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley defeated state Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who had previously challenged Justice David Prosser in 2011. Bradley’s campaign was boosted by nearly $1.9 million in outside spending by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, one of the top 10 spenders in the biennium, and from $114,000 spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative. An outside group supporting Kloppenburg, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, spent $389,360 on television ads, and its affiliate The Greater Wisconsin Committee Political Independent Expenditure Fund spent $107,000 on other advertising.

Spending Rank
Total spending/rank: $4,723,444 5
Candidate fundraising total/rank: $2,249,071 5
Group spending total/rank: $2,474,373 6
Party spending total/rank: 0 N/A
TV spending total/rank: $3,207,070 4