BOISE - Fourth District Judge Daniel Eismann road strong partisan Republican backing to a Supreme Court victory on Tuesday, making incumbent Cathy Silak the first sitting justice to be ousted by voters in 56 years.

Eismann polled 60 percent of the vote, running strong in every county but Ada, Idaho's largest, and Blaine, the state's most Democratic.

He also appeared to benefit from independently financed and orchestrated attack ads against Silak, the first woman appointed to an appellate court in Idaho, and capitalized on rural concern over Silak's controversial water rights decision last fall.

While Eismann tried to distance himself from the negative attacks, he declined to condemn them.

Officially a nonpartisan election, the race was one of the most partisan and contentious for the high court in decades. But Eismann rejected the concerns of many in the legal community that the campaign has already convinced some of the state's most qualified attorneys to decide against seeking a judicial seat.

"I think it's premature to be making those types of judgments or speculations," Eismann said. "I think it's good for the institution for the people to be able to have an opportunity to express themselves through their votes."

In the only other judicial election, Court of Appeals Judge Darrel Perry won a new six-year term without opposition.

Silak, 49, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York with a masters degree from Harvard, was appointed by Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus to the high court in 1993, three years after he named her to the Court of Appeals.

Before that, she had been a partner in one of the state's most prestigious law firms. Although she made a reputation as a centrist who was hard on crime, Silak became a target last fall when she authored the majority opinion for a 3-2 decision ceding to the federal government the rights to unappropriated water in three wilderness areas and Hells Canyon. That ruling is now being reconsidered.

Despite her support of two earlier decisions reining in federal water claims, irrigation interests and the state's overwhelmingly Republican cadre of elected officials attacked her for upsetting what they claimed was a delicate jurisdictional balance on the state's most precious resource.

Eismann, 53, a decorated Vietnam veteran and University of Idaho graduate who served as a magistrate for nine years before his appointment to the district court in 1995, took advantage of the dissatisfaction.

The partisan tone was set when his candidacy was launched last February at a Republican event in Idaho Falls where he told the GOP loyalists that the courts were pushing political agendas by reinterpreting the Constitution.

He promised judicial conservatism and strict construction, implying that the water decision would have gone against the federal government had he been on the court instead of Silak.

It was Silak's second challenge as a justice. She won a full term in 1994 with 57 percent of the vote against former Republican Attorney General Wayne Kidwell, who won his own seat on the court in 1998 in a race against a former state Democratic chairman for the spot of retiring Justice Byron Johnson.

Silak and Eismann each raised just over $100,000 for their campaigns -- Silak asserting the importance of judicial independence and Eismann stressing the need for accountability to voters.

She called attention to her efforts over a decade as a judge to make it easier for people to use the courts and to help smooth the transition for children of divorcing couples. Eismann emphasized his work in developing the Ada County drug court as an alternative means of dealing with drug users.

But independent of the candidates themselves, tens of thousands of dollars was spent on broadcast, telephone and print attacks on Silak by anti-abortion, pro-gun and term limit advocates, who believed Eismann's philosophy would support their causes.

In 1993 while still a magistrate, Eismann told an anti-abortion rally on the steps of the Capitol that it was not a matter of whether morality should be legislated but what kind of morality.

The incumbent was attacked for work she did in the mid-1980s for debt-ridden farmers through the American Civil Liberties Union while the challenger made sure voters knew he was a member of the National Rifle Association. Little was said about his work for Planned Parenthood in the 1970s before he became a born-again Christian.

His castigation of the court in Idaho Falls this winter simply followed up on a blistering indictment Eismann issued eight months earlier when the five justices unanimously reversed him in the precedent-setting school support lawsuit, holding that the state has a constitutional responsibility to provide all students a safe environment conductive to learning.

In a rare written rebuke, Eismann accused the Supreme Court of putting itself above the law.

Through the campaign, however, he declined to comment on any court decisions, saying that would be inappropriate.