Voting, virus, race are hot topics in state high court races

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FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, file photo, The Michigan Supreme Court's Hall of Justice is seen in Lansing, Mich. SANTA FE, N.M. _ Court majorities are at stake beyond Washington, D.C., as voters chose justices for state supreme courts that have been thrust into politicized clashes over voter access and the emergency powers of governors fighting the coronavirus outbreak. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, wants to flip control of the states Republican-majority high court. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. – The U.S. Supreme Court isn't the nation's only judicial battleground.

The high courts in a number of states are on the ballot Tuesday in races that will determine whether Republicans or Democrats have a majority, and the stakes are high for both sides. This year alone, state supreme courts have been thrust into the spotlight to decide politically charged cases over voting rights, race and governors' coronavirus orders.

Next year, it could be abortion, health care and redistricting.

Among the most hotly contested races are the ones for two high court seats in Michigan, where a Republican-leaning majority has undercut emergency virus restrictions by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Whitmer has been openly feuding with the justices after a 4-3 partisan vote in early October that invalidated her emergency health orders.

“The Supreme Court decision in my state has created a lot of confusion and worked to undermine the work that we’ve done here,” Whitmer said. “We crushed our COVID spike early, our economy rebounded. ... It’s all at risk.”

Whitmer’s administration quickly reinstated virus measures under a different law, but the governor said the high-court ruling has fostered public confusion about the need to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Michigan's virus cases and deaths are again spiking. The state's seven-day average for new daily cases has risen over the past two weeks from 1,488 per day to 2,852 as of Thursday.

The rushed U.S. Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, coming just days before the presidential election, has cast a spotlight on the growing politicization of the nation's courts. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, have spoken openly about their success in packing the federal judiciary with conservative jurists.