The Courts and the States

The passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon and inspiration to many, has focused collective political attention on how the presidential and U.S. Senate races will determine the future direction of the American judiciary.

What role do state legislative races play? There are three critical dynamics to highlight.

First, state legislative candidates can play a fundamental role in getting Democrats elected up the ticket. While currently underfunded relative to the top federal campaigns, with the right resources these campaigns can use their local focus to find every last Democratic voter who might be overlooked by larger campaigns.

Second, once elected, these state legislatures set the rules of the political game, most notably around voting rights. State-by-state, the legislators we elect in 2020 will determine how easy it is to vote, how many days of early voting are offered, and whether it is easy and simple to request and receive an absentee ballot. These policies, in turn, will affect whether voters will have a fair chance to exercise their right to vote. That will determine, beyond 2020, whether we’re able to build and maintain a U.S. Senate majority that can get good justices in place across the federal judiciary.

Third, judicial and policy decisions extend far beyond Washington. State supreme courts are pivotal decision-makers on how the policy landscape in each of our communities looks. State legislatures will continue to serve as the principal “laboratories of democracy” in this country, advancing thousands of pieces of legislation and setting the legislative direction of the nation. While some issues will head to the Supreme Court in the coming years, countless more will be decided in state capitols. We can see the country drift further in the Republican direction, or we can take the reins in more of the states. Today, 59 of 99 state legislative chambers are in GOP hands. We can change that balance of power if we win in the right places in 2020.

As we approach and pass November, we’ll continue to talk about how a state-focused strategy can create more power for Democrats at all levels. But there’s something you can do right now to make a difference: give to EveryDistrict’s “Top Ten” list, which this week features candidates in Arizona, Iowa, and North Carolina. You can stretch your dollar with a donation to these candidates. By giving to state legislative candidates who are running in must-win districts to flip state legislative chambers, you’re also investing in candidates who are working to turn out Democrats for the entire ticket in states where we can flip U.S. Senate seats and take back the majority.