NV Supreme Court seats uncontested in 2024, judicial filing brings expanded info on candidates
Often overlooked amid the high-profile races for president, U.S. Senate and governor that dominate airwaves and voters’ mailboxes every election season, local and statewide judicial races are critical for shaping Nevada’s criminal justice system — from local justices of the peace to the state Supreme Court.
At the close of the state’s judicial filing period Friday, more than 100 candidates had officially registered to run for office, from tiny townships in rural Nevada to major urban district courts. The candidate filing period for other seats up for election in 2024 will come in March.
Three of the Nevada Supreme Court’s seven members are up for re-election this year, though all are running unopposed, essentially guaranteeing they will return to the court for six-year terms. The incumbents are:
- Elissa Cadish, the current chief justice who was first elected in 2018 with 45 percent of the vote (she received the most votes, despite being under 50 percent, with the remaining votes split between another candidate and “none of these candidates”)
- Lidia Stiglich, last year’s chief justice who was appointed to the court by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2016 and won her first full term in 2018 with 47 percent of the vote
- Patricia Lee, who was appointed to the court by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in 2022 and who is the first African American woman and the first Asian American to serve on the court
The Nevada Supreme Court typically has a final say on lawsuits involving the Nevada Constitution and ballot questions, as well as high-profile criminal and civil cases (few cases decided by this court will land before the U.S. Supreme Court).
For example, in December 2020, the court dismissed an appeal from then-President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking to overturn the state’s presidential election results.
The Nevada Supreme Court also has other broad powers, including setting rules for legal practices and for criminal procedures, completing state-level canvasses of election results, serving on the Board of Pardons Commissioners and generally administering the state’s judicial system.
Despite their importance, these elections are often marked by lower turnout. In 2022 — another year that saw no contested state Supreme Court races — about 140,000 people who voted for a gubernatorial candidate did not vote in a state Supreme Court race. Roughly a quarter of those who did vote in the Supreme Court races selected “none of these candidates” rather than the only candidate in the race.
Supreme Court races vary significantly by state. Other states, for example, have partisan races for seats on their highest court. Some states have retention elections, in which voters decide whether they want to keep a justice in place. In some states, justices are chosen by the governor or legislature, or a combination of the two.
Direct elections in Nevada and elsewhere give greater power to voters over choosing candidates, but can be influenced by outside interests that intervene in campaigning. Supporters of other methods argue they can protect the independence of the judiciary.
Because the candidates in Nevada’s judicial races are identified as nonpartisan and face campaign restrictions — such as not being allowed to place party affiliation on campaign materials — races for judicial seats are often defined by a lack of information and awareness about the candidates.
But a new requirement in place for this election is aimed at providing voters with more information about the candidates for these critical judicial seats.
Last year, the Legislature passed SB418, which requires all non-incumbent judicial candidates to complete a publicly available questionnaire that includes their education, qualifications and work history. The requirement is similar to guidelines set by the Commission on Judicial Selection for filling any vacancies.
“Voting for judges can be difficult or confusing because we don’t know them very well,” Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), who sponsored the bill, said at a legislative hearing last year. “They can’t stand up on a podium and tell us how they feel about different provisions of the Constitution, or different U.S. Supreme Court decisions or policy matters.”
The bill, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Joe Lombardo, was amended late in the legislative process to exclude incumbent judges from having to fill out the questionnaire.
Local jurisdictions are maintaining lists of these questionnaires online, which can be found here.
Similar dynamics play out in other down-ballot judicial races.
Of the more than 100 candidates who filed, more than 80 percent are running for justice of the peace positions. These are positions in jurisdictions ranging from Las Vegas to Eureka County who typically handle misdemeanors, evictions, traffic matters and disputes over property valued up to $10,000. The judges also are the first stop in the justice system to determine if there is probable cause to charge a defendant and move the case up to district court.
Among the local races, former Republican assemblywoman and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore is seeking a full term as a justice of the peace in Pahrump. Nye County commissioners appointed her to the role in December 2022 shortly after she lost a statewide race for treasurer, despite her lack of legal experience and questions about her residency. Fiore now faces three challengers in her bid to stay in the position.
The list of judicial elections this year also includes a few local municipal court seats, where judges typically handle low-level traffic and misdemeanor cases.
There are also a slew of candidates running for district court positions, including one vacant seat in department 27 of the Clark County District Court that has two candidates. These judges have jurisdiction over all legal disputes in a county and oversee jury trials, mediation and arbitration hearings. They can also hear appeals from lower courts. For serious crimes, a judge in this role could determine the sentence for a defendant convicted of murder and whether someone could be sentenced to death.
At the Clark County District Court, some candidates are seeking seats in the family division, where a judge could rule on a case to approve or deny a parent custody over a child.
Some of these seats are also pivotal for reviewing more notable political cases, such as in the Carson City District Court, where lawsuits challenging state laws and ballot initiatives are required to be filed.
This court has already been pivotal in shaping the 2024 election, with one judge in this court ruling against a pair of different proposed ballot initiatives seeking to protect reproductive rights in the Nevada Constitution and to overturn a 2023 state law establishing public funding for a Major League Baseball stadium in Las Vegas.
In a race for a Carson City District Court seat, the incumbent judge Kristin Luis is seeking a full term after stepping into the role earlier this month following her appointment by Gov. Joe Lombardo. Luis faces a challenge from Mark Krueger, a chief deputy attorney general who also applied for the vacant seat Luis filled.
Find the full list of candidates who filed for judicial races here.