On Friday, April 26, 2024, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that Arizona Supreme Court Justices may be facing increased political pressure and targeted campaigns during the 2024 judicial retention elections.

At last year’s annual judicial conference, ethics officials warned judges to prepare to form campaign committees for the 2024 elections. This came after three Superior Court judges lost their retention elections in 2022 and one Supreme Court Justice narrowly maintained his seat.

Progress Arizona recently launched a campaign called AZ Judge Guide that aims to unseat Justices Kathryn King and Clint Bolick in the 2024 elections. This was in response to their concurrence in the recent ruling upholding Arizona’s 1864 total abortion ban. Progress Arizona believes voters should remove judges who prioritize ideology over citizens.

While judges facing retention can form campaign committees, strict ethics rules constrain their ability to campaign. Judges cannot personally solicit donations, endorse other candidates, or make any commitments that could undermine the appearance of impartiality. They also need to be cautious about supporters to avoid potential disqualification from future cases.

April Elliot from the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct said that when Arizona first implemented merit selection and retention elections, no one foresaw campaigns explicitly targeting judges. Over time though, as political tensions rise, campaigns against judges have expanded in scope.

Former Arizona Supreme Court Justice John Pelander faced two attempts to remove him – once in his early career over a gun rights case, and again in 2012 following a ballot access ruling. The second time, against the advice of others, he formed a campaign committee that overwhelmingly retained him with over 70% of the vote.

Pelander warned that campaigns against judges could grow on both sides of the political aisle and threaten judicial independence if judges feel pressure to consider the political consequences of rulings. He stressed the importance of voters looking at a judge’s entire record rather than single cases.

As the 2024 elections approach, Arizona judges may have to carefully navigate heightened political attacks within the constraints of judicial ethics rules. How the state balances free speech in elections and judicial impartiality could shape its courts for years.

 

 

Source: Arizona Capitol Times