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IN FOCUS - May 31, 2024

In 2022, Maricopa County voters rejected the most judges in nearly 50 years. The result reversed decades-long precedent in typically sleepy elections for judicial retention, and may have helped set the stage for a blockbuster effort this fall to unseat two members of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Progressive groups like Progress Arizona and Planned Parenthood Votes have pledged $5 million to defeat judges at the ballot box in a handful of states, including Arizona. Arizona Supreme Court Justices Clint Bolick and Kathryn King are among the primary targets following their majority opinion that upheld the state’s territorial abortion ban. 

Critics say Justices Bolick and King are fair game for finding that the controversial law should be in effect. They also note that Arizona’s high court is already well-politicized, thanks to then-Governor Ducey tilting its balance in 2016 by expanding it to seven justices.

But, defenders of Justices Bolick and King say those leading the effort to unseat them are being disingenuous, and worry the electoral targeting of judges will only further politicize the court and turn judicial retention elections into nasty affairs not unlike races for legislative and other offices.

Arizona utilizes a merit selection process under which judges are nominated by citizens commissions and appointed by the Governor. A bipartisan Judicial Performance Review Commission regularly evaluates judges and publicizes the results for voters. Merit selection was meant to prevent Arizona from following states like Wisconsin, where judicial campaigns are bare-knuckle contests and a recent campaign for the state supreme court cost over $50 million.



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