Liberal Protasiewicz and Conservative Kelly to Face Off in Election to Decide Control of Wisconsin Supreme Court

The candidates in the election to decide ideological control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court are set, as liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative, advanced in Tuesday’s primary election.

With all but 14 percent of Wisconsin precincts reporting, Protasiewicz had tallied 46.4 percent of the vote, while Kelly claimed 24.4 percent. Kelly held a narrow but decisive lead over third-place finisher and fellow conservative, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, who was at about 22 percent. Liberal Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell trailed the field at about 7.5 percent of the vote.

The top two vote-getters move on to the April 4 general election.

“I’m honored we will continue on from this primary. This is just the beginning & our work is far from over,” Protasiewicz tweeted Tuesday evening after being the first of the candidates to be declared victorious. “I’m counting on all of you to continue the momentum all the way thru April 4– there’s too much at stake in this election for us to take anything for granted.”

Kelly, who was appointed to the bench in 2016 by then-Republican Governor Scott Walker, lost his bid for a full 10-year term in 2020 to liberal Jill Karofsky.

In a statement, Kelly said he is grateful to his fellow Wisconsinites who, through their votes, “have reaffirmed the centrality of our Constitution to the work of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

“But there is much work to be done before we can truly celebrate, because this is going to be an election like no other,” he said. “Tonight we join battle in the fight to preserve our constitutional form of government against a novel and grave threat: Janet Protasiewicz’s promise to set aside our law and our Constitution whenever they conflict with her personal ‘values.’”

Protasiewicz has said she embraces the “progressive label” and that judicial candidates should talk about their “values.” She has done a good deal of talking about her values over the course of the campaign, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade last summer and blasting the the state’s electoral maps. Those two issues are likely to come before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Conservatives currently hold a slim 4-3 majority on the state’s high court, made slimmer by the presence of “swing vote” Justice Brian Hagedorn, who ran as a conservative but has sided several times with the court’s three liberals. The court has effectively been in the control of conservative jurists for more than a decade.

The national left is all in on Wisconsin’s crucial Supreme Court race, a contest that will not only determine whether conservatives or liberals control the high court, but the fate of Democrat Governor Tony Evers’ liberal agenda and, possibly, the 2024 presidential election.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election in early April “carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in America in 2023,” the New York Times declared last month.

“The April race, for a seat on the state’s evenly divided Supreme Court, will determine the fate of abortion rights, gerrymandered legislative maps and the Wisconsin governor’s appointment powers — and perhaps even influence the state’s 2024 presidential election,” the Times reported. “Wisconsin, as a battleground state, could once again play a big role in deciding the next president.”

Former U.S. Sen. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) issued dire warnings to his fellow liberals.

“WI voters go to the polls today for a primary in one of the most important races of 2023 — an open seat on the WI Supreme Court. The person elected could be the deciding vote on #abortionrights in WI + on the fate of our #democracy come the 2024 election,” Feingold tweeted.

Not surprising, a lot of money has poured into what could very likely be the most expensive U.S. judicial race on record, topping a $15 million campaign in 2004 for the Illinois Supreme Court, according to the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.

Protasiewicz thus far has dominated the campaign cash chase, taking in $2.2 million in donations — much of it from big money, left-wing interests, according to a review of campaign finance statements. In the last two weeks alone, the court campaign’s money chase leader has brought in more than $530,000 in donations — the vast majority at $1,000 or more.

As of Friday, Dorow, who earned national attention for presiding over the trial of the killer behind the Waukesha Christmas Parade Massacre,  reported a total of nearly $756,000 in contributions, according to her campaign finance reports. Kelly had reported about $467,000 in donations. And Mitchell had raised $223,319, according to his campaign finance filings.

Meanwhile, ad spending on the race as of mid-February had topped $7 million, according to AdImpact Politics.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Janet Protasiewicz” by Janet for Justice and “Daniel Kelly” us by Judge Daniel Kelly. Background Photo “Wisconsin Supreme Court” by Daderot. CC0 1.0.



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