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 September 7th, 2022          Political Note #501 – Kentucky, Montana, and New Mexico, and Arkansas State Supreme Courts

2022                          General Election

Larry Sabato of Sabato’s Crystal Ball opined that eight states had supreme court races particularly worth watching.  He included Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina which I have already written about with suggestions for donations.  (See (Political Note #443,  Political Note #444, Political Note #491, Political Note #492)

Here, on one go, are further suggestions for candidates to support.  Consider State Supreme Court races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, and New Mexico. There are Democrats to support in Kentucky, Montana, and New Mexico.  There are none in Arkansas, but I am including information about  Arkansas just for fun.

Michelle Keller.         Shawn Rosso Alcott        Angela McC Bisig

Kentucky Supreme Court

The Courier Journal wrote about a 2017 study that reported “Kentucky…. had the eighth highest liberal skew [for its supreme court in contrast to the state it served]”.   The Courier Journal added: “Put [tne] findings more plainly, the Kentucky Supreme Court does not reflect the values of the electorate.”

The Courier Journal informed readers that in 2022 “there will be a chance to completely reshape the Kentucky Supreme Court, with four races in total on the ballot covering Bowling Green and Owensboro, Northern Kentucky and Louisville.”

Not all progressives would see the current seven member Kentucky Court as particularly progressive.  Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court allowed the state’s anti-abortion law to remain in effect while its constitutionality was being considered. The Court’s decision-making became more complex because Kentucky will vote, in November, on a ballot question the Courier Journal described as declaring yes or no regarding whether the state constitution provides a right to an abortion.

Two Justices argued the abortion law should be stayed until the Court acted on the constitutionality of the statute.  Those two are Chief Justice John Minton from the 2nd District and Deputy Chief Justice Lisbeth Tabor Hughes from the 4th District.  Both are retiring at the end of 2022.  There are contests for both the 2nd and the 4th district.

Three Justices supported the District Court Judge who declined to overrule the new anti-abortion law. Those were 3rd District Justice Debra Lambert, 5th District Justice Laurance Van Meter, and 7th District Justice Robert Conley.  None of those districts have a Supreme Court election in 2022.

Of the two remaining Justices, 6th District Justice Michelle Keller (an appointee of former Democratic Governor Stephen Beshear) wrote an opinion in which she said she was looking forward to the November referendum on abortion and the constitution.  She was joined in that opinion by 1st District Justice Christopher Nickell.

Kentucky’s Supreme Court Contests

1st District Justice Christopher Nickell has no opposition in November.

6th District Justice Michelle Keller is opposed by Joseph Fischer, a graduate of Holy Cross with a JD from Cincinnati. He is a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and describes himself as a Tea Party member.  Michelle Keller was elected to an 8 year term in 2014 after her appointment to the Court.  She had been a member of the Court of Appeals and previously had a varied private practice.  She was a licensed Registered Nurse before and while attending Northern Kentucky University’s Law School.

Two candidates are running in the 2nd district to replace Chief Justice John Minton.  Shawn Rosso Alcott, a graduate of Vanderbilt with a JD from Kentucky has had a law practice that focused on health care issues and environmental issues.  She is opposed by Kelly Thompson is a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals.  A graduate of Western Kentucky where his father was President, he has a law degree from the Kentucky University. He began his legal career as the Hardin County Chief Trial Counsel for the Kentucky Highway Department.

Two candidates are running to replace Deputy Chief Justice Lisbeth Tabor Hughes.  Angela McCormick Bisighas a BA and JD from the University of Louisville.  She has been a district court judge and a juvenile court judge. As a prosecutor she focused on domestic violence and sexual assault. She is a founding member of Restorative Justice Louisville and serves on the Disproportionate Minority Confinement Committee.  Jason Bowman is a graduate of the University of Louisville with a JD from Texas A&M.  His practice is family law.  His politics are not easy to unearth.

Bill D’Alton.                   Ingrid Gustafson

Montana Supreme Court

Montana has a seven member Supreme Court. In 1999, the State Supreme Court ruled that Montana’s Constitution protected the right to privacy.  If the Montana legislature outlaws abortion, a Democratic governor would veto such a law.  Since 2020, however, Montana has had a Republican Governor.  The State Supreme Court and its understanding of the state constitution serves as the protector of a right to an abortion unless it overturns the 1999 opinion.

The Supreme Court is elected.  Those opposed to abortion would have to elect members of the Court willing to overturn the 1999 decision.  It is useful to get a picture of all seven members of the Court.

Class of 2028

Justice Laurie McKinnon’s term expires in 2028.

Interviewed before the 2020 election, she emphasized that the Judicial branch of government provides stability and that she, herself, is entirely non-partisan.

Justice Jim Shea’s term expires in 2028

He was appointed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock in 2014 and elected in 2016.

Class of 2026

Justice Beth Baker’s term expires in 2026. She was elected in 2011

A member of the Court’s Access to Justice Commission, she wrote, in 2011, that “if courts are not accessible in a real way, if people they have no access to the rule of law, public confidence in our system of justice begins to erode.”

Class of 2024

Justice Dirk Sandefur’s term expires in 2024. He was initially elected in 2016.

Described as a tough, but fair trial judge, donors for his 2016 election included leading Democrats.  An analysis found that there were slightly more Republican than Democratic donors.

Class of 2022

Justice James A Rice’s term expires in 2022 was initially appointed by a Republican Governor.

From a military family, he has been elected in 2002, 2006, and 2014. He has been a member of the Montana House of Representatives and served as Majority Whip.

Justice Ingrid Gustafson’s term expires in 2022, was appointed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

Montana Contests

Justice James Rice v Bill D’Alton

            Montana Supreme Court Justice James Rice has one opponent for position 1 – Bill D’Alton.  Justice Rice says the most important duty of the Courts is to protect individual liberties.  During his term of office, he says, that he has insisted that courts remain within their constitutional boundaries, respecting the roles of the other branches of government. In the preliminary round in June, Rice led his opponent 74-24.   The opponent for the November election is Bill D’Alton.  He was born in New Milford, CT., attended the University of Montana and stayed. Initially, he worked defending insurance companies then began representing plaintiffs as well.  He has no campaign website and offers no indication where you could donate funds for his campaign.  A donor could try sending a check to the D’Alton Campaign for the Montana Supreme Court,  D’Alton Law Firm PC, 3970 Avenue D, Suite C, Billings, MT 59102.  In the interests of maintaining integrity, he insists he will serve only one term on the Court if elected.

 Justice Ingrid Gustafson v James Brown

            Montana Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson now has one opponent for position 2 – James Brown.  Justice Ingrid Gustafson is proud of her efforts in Felony Drug Court to give those convicted tools and incentives to address drug use issues and to become productive citizens.  She also notes the judicial improvement project that improved family reunification, and her continuing efforts to advance evidence-based criminal justice and child welfare.  Originally appointed as a judge by a Republican Governor, she was appointed to the Supreme Court by a Democrat.  A former All-American NCAA downhill skier, she went to the University of Montana Law School.

In the preliminary round, one candidate was eliminated.  She received 51% of the vote.  James Brown received 35%.  Brown has his own law firm and, as he explains, has represented a variety of clients ranging from family law to complex environmental law and regulation. The Great Falls Gazette describes his practice as consisting mostly of conservative interests.  He was endorsed by the Republican Party and several Republican officials.  Justice Ingrid Gustafson has criticized those endorsement arguing for the non-partisan character of the Court.  Brown’s proudest achievements, described during the campaign, are non-partisan —  getting funds for a new wool lab at Montana State and getting funds for grizzly bear specialists to manage bear-livestock conflicts.



Julie Vargas.                 Briana Zamora

New Mexico Supreme Court

New Mexico has five members on its Supreme Court.  All five are Democrats.  Three are up for election.

Michael Vigil was elected to the Supreme Court in 2018.  He is Chief Justice and wants to continue on the Court.  In that case, he stands for a retention election.  He has no opposition, but must get 57% of the vote to stay in office.  When he was appointed to the Court of Appeals, he took care to be sworn in at the Sweeney Gymnasium, the stage where he was awarded his high school diploma. He says his greatest pleasures are Constitution Day celebrated with 5th graders and sitting on appeals for real cases before high school students which he does throughout New Mexico.  A graduate of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, he received his JD from Georgetown university.

Position 1

Julie Vargas  was appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to begin in January, 2021.  Because she has not been elected to the Court, she runs in a competitive election.  A graduate of Brown University, she has her JD from the University of New Mexico where she was the editor of the Law Review.  She spent 23 years in private practice during which time she co-chaired the state’s Bar Ethics Committee. She is opposed by Republican Thomas Montoya. He is a graduate of Stanford University and has his JD from the University of Southern California.  He has practiced family law for 28 years about which he writes, lectures, and teaches.

Position 2

Briana H. Zamora was appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to begin in January, 2021. Because she has not been elected to the Court, she runs in a competitive election.  A graduate of New Mexico State University, she received her JD from the University of New Mexico.  She was in private practice and previously served as an assistant state attorney general and as an assistant DA.  She was a metro court judge from 2009 to 2013, served in New Mexico’s Second Circuit until 2018, and on the state Court of Appeals until her Supreme Court appointment.  Her opponent is Kerry Morris.  He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and its law school.  Except for a brief period of time as an assistant district attorney, he has been in private practice for approximately 40 years. He describes his major personal accomplishment as his 34 year marriage to his wife, Gloria.

Arkansas Supreme Court

You won’t find any progressives on the Arkansas Supreme Court.  Nor will you find more than one contest in the November election.  Three of the seven incumbent justices are running for eight-year terms. Two are assured of election in November.

Position 6 Justice Karen R. Baker received 62% of the vote in the preliminary round defeating Gunner DeLay whose website promised he would keep Arkansas prosperous and free.  The Arkansas Times welcomed Karen Baker’s announcement she would run for reelection as being “almost refreshing” because it did not include catchphrases like “family values” or “conservative.”

Position 7 Justice Rhonda Wood was an ally of former Governor Mike Huckabee and was initially appointed to the Arkansas Supreme Court by him.  She had no opposition in 2022.

 Position 2.  Incumbent Robin Wynne is the probable winner against former Chairman of the state Republican party Chris Carnahan.  In the first round, Wynne just missed getting a majority with 49.5% of the vote.  Carnahan got 28.8%.

Some might argue it is worth the investment to send money to Wynne’s opponent anyhow.  A review of Wynne’s record finds an instance when he was a prosecutor in a death penalty case overturned by the district court and affirmed by the Eighth Circuit.  Wynne and law enforcement, according to the District Court, “worked together to intentionally conceal” the existence of and to destroy a recording of an informant’s conversation telling a witness he, the witness, would face the death penalty if he did not confess and name the others as accomplices. Wynne had insisted to the defense that he had no knowledge of an informant whose statements led to the arrent of the defendants.

Carnahan has also been charged with inappropriate behavior – but that bad behavior was not in the same league.  Carnahan doctored a statement by Governor Hutchinson supporting him for a lower court position to appear as if it was an endorsement for his campaign for the State Supreme Court.

Four other states previously reported

Donations are encouraged in these 3 states

And you can donate to Democratic candidates for Supreme Court in other states:

Justice Sam Ervin IV and Judge Lucy Noble Inman for North Carolina’s Supreme Court (Political Note #443)

Justice Jennifer Brunner and Judges Marilyn Zayas and Terri Jamison for Ohio’s Supreme Court (Political Note #444)

Justice Richard Bernstein and State Representative Kyra Harris Bolden for Michigan’s Supreme Court (Political Note #491)

A caveat about donations in Illinois.

Only Illinois residents can donate to the candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court.  If you know someone from Illinois pass this  or Political Note #492 along.  Elizabeth Rochford for Judicial District 2 and Mary K. O’Brien for Judicial District 3. (Political Note #492).

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