Democratic Governors’ Judicial Appointments Have Never Mattered More

Light blue background with blue scale that has a governor's seal on the top of the scale and a red elephant on the bottom of the scale.

In 2022, we watched as the majority Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court ended nearly 50 years of legal precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade in their Dobbs decision. Overnight, five justices did away with nearly a half century of legal protection for reproductive rights, meaning the battle over the future of abortion rights is once again taking place in the states.

This isn’t limited to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court’s recent Moore v. Harper ruling reaffirmed the important role state courts will also play in determining critical aspects of voting rights and election laws. And with the Supreme Court undermining the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority on environmental regulations, the future of climate policy now rests with the states as well.

It’s no surprise that Americans are more aware now than ever of the impact the courts have on their lives when it comes to freedom, democracy and the biggest issues we care about.

That’s why the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) is launching Power to Appoint, a new dedicated, no-overhead fund with a mission to uplift an important power almost every governor in America has: appointing judges.

As first reported by the New York Times, Power to Appoint will be a critical tool to raise the awareness and resources needed to win in states where the governor has the power to appoint judges, which is true for all 11 states with a governor’s race this year including New Hampshire and North Carolina.

The power to appoint judges is yet another critical reason we must continue to invest in electing more Democratic governors.

As of this year, sitting governors have made more than 1,500 judicial appointments, with more than 900 of those appointments coming from Democratic governors, according to our research. Judges appointed by Democratic governors uphold the rule of law and serve as an independent backstop against unconstitutional attacks on freedoms and civil rights.

For example, since taking office in 2019, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has used her power to appoint independent judges to bring balance to the court. Those judges have upheld voting as a fundamental right and signaled that access to abortion is a constitutional right.

In the critical battleground state of Arizona, Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) has appointed 15 judges to trial courts throughout the state, establishing an independent bench of judges who will uphold the rule of law in a state where MAGA extremists like Kari Lake have a record of trying to overturn and undermine free and fair elections through the courts. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has made over 300 judicial appointments, more than any governor in the country.

Those are states where the DGA invested heavily to win the governor’s races, spending over $17 million in Kansas and nearly $10 million in Arizona in 2022. In contrast, the courts in Florida have undergone an extreme right-wing makeover under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. His appointments flipped the once-balanced state Supreme Court into a conservative majority, which will now be responsible for ruling on DeSantis’ extreme abortion ban and a case to determine if a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights will be allowed on the ballot this November.

At the federal level, nearly 20% of the judges nominated by former president Donald Trump were originally appointed at the state level by a Republican governor. At a time when the Biden-Harris administration is making a record number of federal judicial appointments, Democratic governors are helping to rebuild the pipeline of potential federal appointees, along with increasing the diversity of the country’s judicial system with each appointment they make.

Despite the critical importance of these appointments, they have often gone overlooked. Democratic governors continue to earn recognition for the many ways they directly impact the lives of Americans, from expanding health care and fixing infrastructure to protecting fundamental freedoms like abortion rights and voting rights, and judicial appointments are another way that Democratic governors are continuing to improve the lives of people in their states.

In fact, the DGA continues to gain momentum and shatter fundraising records. In 2023 alone, we raised over $71.5 million across all entities, allowing us to invest more than ever to continue our track record of success. Since 2016, the DGA has won 26 out of 27 incumbent re-elections and defied history in 2022 by flipping three states from red to blue.

The power to appoint judges is yet another critical reason we must continue to invest in electing more Democratic governors. The DGA looks forward to leveraging the growing enthusiasm voters have for governors races to underscore the important role governors play in establishing a judiciary who will serve as an independent firewall to uphold the U.S. Constitution and our fundamental freedoms.

Meghan Meehan-Draper is the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association