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Issue 7: 2023 State Supreme Court Elections Preview

December 6, 2022

The 2022 elections were critical for state supreme courts, with partisan control at stake in several battleground states and the looming reality that, as the U.S. Supreme Court marches aggressively rightward, whether anyone besides gun owners and the Christian Right enjoys constitutional rights increasingly depends on state constitutions and how state courts apply them. There will be just one state supreme court election in 2023 (including retention elections, of which there are zero), but the stakes remain high. Partisan control of Wisconsin’s supreme court will turn on the election to replace retiring Republican Justice Patience Roggensack.

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Issue 6: When state supreme courts choose finality over justice

October 31, 2022

The idea that “finality” is what preserves the integrity of criminal convictions—and not, say, justice or fairness or accuracy—is a deeply unsettling axiom of federal law. The federal reports are littered with concerns about how expensive and laborious and time-consuming it would be if courts actually enforced the Constitution and protected innocent people from wrongful convictions. In theory at least, finality should be a lower priority in state appellate courts, where there is no pretense of respecting other niceties like “comity” or “federalism.” But it doesn’t always work that way.

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Issue 5: State Courts As “Critical Change Agents”: Two New Papers On The Power of State Constitutions To Dismantle Mass Incarceration 

October 10, 2022

The movement to end mass incarceration has pulled various levers of power, from backing reform candidates in local races for prosecutor, sheriff, and mayor, to pushing for statewide legislative change. This focus on the state and local makes sense — 90% of America’s prison population is confined under state and local laws or practices — but it also reveals a glaring absence from this list: state supreme courts and the powerful state constitutions over which they have final say.

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Issue 4: South Carolina Constitution Prohibits Executions By Electric Chair & Firing Squad, Trial Court Says

September 16, 2022

Unable to obtain drugs for lethal injections, South Carolina in 2021 revived its electric chair as the default method of execution, while adding firing squad (with a quickly cobbled-together protocol from “the internet”) as another option. Last week, a South Carolina trial court struck down this scheme, finding that it violated the state constitution’s prohibition on excessive punishments. 

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Issue 3: Felony Disenfranchisement & State Constitutions

September 16, 2022

In a chilling display of dictatorial theatrics, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week made a spectacle of using felony disenfranchisement laws -- always racist tools of voter suppression -- to intimidate and criminalize potential voters. DeSantis touted the arrests for fraud of people whom election officials, including those in his own administration, had approved to vote despite their previous felony convictions (many people with felony convictions in Florida are in fact eligible voters). Under intense scrutiny, it has become increasingly clear that police, including a SWAT team in at least one case, had rounded up and caged bewildered voters for nothing more than their good-faith efforts to engage in democracy.  But getting far less attention is a devastating Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, dropped just days later, upholding the felony disenfranchisement provision in Mississippi’s state constitution — a law that, not even its defenders dispute, was originally designed to prevent Black people from voting. 

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Issue 2: Montana Supreme Court to Police: With Great Power Comes Vicarious Liability

August 21, 2022

Police officers constantly ask courts for more power and less accountability. More power to search and surveil and even kill people, and immunity from any sort of consequence when they abuse that power. And for the most part, courts have complied. U.S. Supreme Court precedent warns lower courts not to second-guess police conduct from “the peace of a judge’s chambers,” and the judge-made doctrine of qualified — and in some cases even absolute — immunity makes suing law enforcement officers nearly impossible.  But on Tuesday the Montana Supreme Court decided a different kind of police liability case, and, in allowing a lawsuit over police violence to move forward, sent the government a clear if subtle message: Be careful what you wish for. 

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Issue 1: Michigan’s Big Day Protecting Kids From Extreme Punishment

August 12, 2022

The Michigan Supreme Court closed its term last month with a string of major decisions that shield kids from long prison sentences while showing the power of state courts and state constitutions to curb extreme punishments

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