Election Day: “It isn’t old fashioned or outmoded. It is vital. It is indispensable.”
The incredible import of the state court
Yes, this is a Tuesday — the day for Tuesday subscriber threads. But today is also Election Day. The U.S. Court System is very complicated — and if you’re casting a ballot today, chances are high you’re also voting to retain or elect a local or state judge. In many states that decision could have major and immediate ramifications.
In my former state of Montana, for example, the race between incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson and attorney James Brown (a self-professed “constitutional conservative” who was asked to run by current Republican governor Greg Gianforte) has attracted millions in outside spending — because the state Supreme Court will soon be ruling on legal challenges to legislation passed in 2021 that would effectively outlaw almost all abortion in the state. Similarly high-stakes, daily life- and democracy-altering races will be decided today in Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and several other states — including Kansas.
I think it’s easy to think of these races as purely partisan — that we should vote for the justice whose politics align most closely with our own. But there’s a very real argument for choosing to retain judges who were picked for their skill and experience interpreting legal precedence — thinking outside the realm of partisan politics. Is that possible? And what happens when the people already appointed are very clearly partisan? What would happen if, say, we were able to also vote to retain or oust sitting Supreme Court justices? What is the value of the appointment/vote hybrid, and what is lost when these races *become* partisan because, well, everything is partisan right now? (Also it varies state by state SO MUCH! If you want to know how it works in your state, this is the most straightforward key).
I don’t have the answers to this quandary, but when Hadley Rolf emailed me pitching an interview with her mom, former Kansas Supreme Court justice Carol Beier, it felt like the sort of interview that could do what the Culture Study community does best: encourage us to think a whole lot more about the systems around us and what sustains or degrade them, particularly today, on Election Day.
If you’ve already voted — amazing.
If you’re in a state where people vote in-person, check-in with any people in your life who have caregiving duties to see if you can watch their kids in the car while they go vote, or bring over dinner so they don’t have to deal with prepping that, too — just say: “is there any way I can make voting easier for you today?” If you have caregiving responsibilities and are feeling harried — don’t be afraid to reach out. People really do want to help. I mean it.
Voting won’t fix our democracy-in-crisis but it is our best defense against its ongoing collapse — and until we actually make voting accessible to all citizens, we need to do our best to make it possible for those in our community.
One of our country’s most important freedoms is that of free speech.
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