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Competitiveness in State Supreme Court Elections, 1946–2009


  • Assembling the data for the analysis presented in this article proved to be a significant undertaking. For many states, the information is readily available online or in published form (e.g., in state “blue books,”“legislative manuals,” and the like); for others, the information is to be found only in archives or local newspapers that could be obtained only on microfilm via interlibrary loan. I received tremendous assistance in this endeavor from reference librarians and interlibrary loan staff at the University of Wisconsin Law Library, the William Mitchell College of Law Library, and the University of Minnesota Law Library. A number of individuals in state election offices were extremely helpful and responsive, as were a number of scholars who provided me with data from their states and/or answered questions about possible sources for their states. I particularly thank Jess Clayton who worked as a project assistant for me at the University of Wisconsin. Melinda Gann Hall generously provided me with tabulations she had done based on data compiled by the Brennan Center; Adam Skaggs at the Brennan Center provided me with a prelease copy of the Center's 2010 report and spreadsheets with data on advertising in 2006 and 2008. Reviewers for the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies provided several valuable suggestions. Finally, I acknowledge support I received from the University of Wisconsin Graduate School and the University of Wisconsin Political Science Department.

University of Minnesota Law School, 229 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55455; email: Kritzer is the Marvin J. Sonosky Chair of Law and Public Policy and Affiliated Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.


There has been much debate over changes in state supreme court elections. However, most of the research that debate refers to considers a relatively short timespan. This article reports an analysis of contestation and competitiveness in state supreme court elections for the entire post World War II period. The article considers both primary and general elections (other than retention elections). The central finding of the article is that outside the South there has been surprisingly little change, either in whether incumbents are challenged for reelection or in the competitiveness of the elections that are contested (looking separately at open-seat elections and elections involving incumbents). The analysis suggests that the apparent increase in competitiveness (taken to include the question of whether an incumbent is challenged), at least through 2009, reflects factors other than changes in the nature of campaigns and expenditures on state supreme court elections; specifically, those changes largely result from the end of the one-party South.