According to NBC News, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz has been elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, giving liberals their first majority on the state’s top court in 15 years.
In what turned out to be the most expensive state Supreme Court contest in American history and one of the most keenly watched elections of 2023, Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, on Tuesday.
With Protasiewicz’s victory, the court’s new liberal majority will be able to decide the future of several crucial issues, including abortion rights, the state’s gerrymandered legislative districts, and election administration — possibly even the outcome of the 2024 presidential election in the swing state.
Protasiewicz had 55% of the vote, compared to Kelly’s 45%, after 85% of the predicted votes had been tallied. 4 out of the 3 justices on the court are conservatives.
For the first time since 2008, Protasiewicz will take the place left vacant by retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, giving the liberals the majority. Protasiewicz won a seat for a decade.
Protasiewicz made it apparent during her campaign that she shared the Democratic Party’s views on a wide range of topics, most notably the right to an abortion.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic abortion rights organization Emily’s List, the late Attorney General Eric Holder, and several other well-known Democrats all supported her.
Democrats labeled the contest as the most crucial in the nation this year and concentrated their messaging on abortion rights and fair elections, carrying out a strategy that the national party adopted to hold onto the Senate and stave off a red wave in the House last year.
Protasiewicz’s victory demonstrates that the tactic is still effective for the party; this is information that national Democrats will almost certainly rely on in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
In the instants following NBC News’s call in her favor, state Democrats and pro-abortion organizations praised her victory. The contest served as “a release valve for twelve years of Democratic rage in Wisconsin about Republicans rigging our state and wrecking our democracy,” according to Ben Wikler, chair of the state Democratic Party.
This isn’t a prediction. It isn’t a hint. It’s just a note. And my note is, this election was a release valve for twelve years of Democratic rage in Wisconsin about Republicans rigging our state and smashing our democracy—and then using that power to rip away our rights.
— Ben Wikler (@benwikler) April 5, 2023
Protasiewicz’s victory “will change the lives of Wisconsinites for years to come and allow the state to become a beacon of reproductive health care access,” according to Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Another important element was how much more money the Protasiewicz campaign and its supporters raised than Kelly’s campaign and its backers.
Protasiewicz declared in her victory address from Milwaukee that “our democracy will always prevail” and thanked voters for “chosen to reject partisan extremism in this state.”
She said, subtly criticizing Kelly for his alleged involvement in a scheme to rig the state’s 2020 election results, “Too many have tried to overturn the will of the people.”
“Today’s results show that Wisconsinites believe in democracy and the democratic process,” she said. Kelly, who lost his position on the state Supreme Court to leftist Jill Karofsky in 2020, was subjected to unrelenting criticism from Protasiewicz and his allies for advising Republicans on their legal efforts to invalidate the 2020 election by using “fake electors.”
Kelly conceded defeat but attacked Protasiewicz for running “the mostly deeply deceitful, dishonorable, despicable campaign I’ve ever seen run for the courts” in a fiery speech to supporters in the small hamlet of Green Lake.
“The people of Wisconsin have chosen the rule of Janet. I respect that decision because it is theirs to make,” Kelly said.
“I wish I would be able to concede to a worthy opponent,” he added, “but I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” Another jab was added to his closing remarks when he wished Wisconsin success, stating, “I think it’s going to need it.”
Check out some trending news:
- Jill Biden Drops Hint on President’s Reelection Plans
- Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern Resign Ahead of the Next Election
Former Wisconsin GOP Chairman Andrew Hitt testified to the House committee looking into the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, that he and Kelly had “pretty extensive conversations” about the scheme.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last month that Kelly had been paid $120,000 by the Republican Party at the state and federal levels to advise them on “election integrity” issues. Kelly retaliated against the charges and denied being involved in the incident again and time again.
Abortion rights were, however, at the crux of the battle. It is anticipated that the state’s draconian 1849 abortion statute will soon be decided by the state Supreme Court.
In a number of her television commercials, Protasiewicz stressed her support for abortion rights and lambasted “extremists” in the opposition.
Three anti-abortion rights organizations endorsed Kelly, who remained silent about his potential decision in this situation and also offered advice to another Wisconsin anti-abortion rights organization.
The state Supreme Court is also likely to hear a variety of challenges to current election laws, along with cases that could involve recounts, absentee ballots, and other aspects of election administration that could materially affect the results of close elections in the perpetually competitive state, including the 2024 presidential election.
For instance, the state Supreme Court declared all ballot drop boxes outside of election clerks’ offices illegal in a 4-3 decision last year, which was a setback for Democrats who had argued for the preservation of one of the more lenient rules regarding the boxes that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 4-3 decision two years prior, the court narrowly upheld the state’s 2020 election results. Court observers anticipate more cases like this in the future. Other concerns that might come before the court in the future include challenges to Act 10, a bill passed by Republican then-Gov. Scott Walker did away with collective bargaining for the majority of public employees.
It might also take up cases involving newly designed parliamentary maps (the current map, which experts have said is one of the most gerrymandered in the country, was approved by the current state Supreme Court last year).
In Wisconsin, as in many other states, the state Supreme Court will decide on legislative maps if the governor and the Legislature are unable to reach an agreement. During a debate, Protasiewicz made it plain where she stood by asserting, “I think the map issue is really kind of easy, actually. I don’t think anybody thinks both maps are fair.”
In the meantime, a constitutional amendment that might make it more challenging for suspects in serious crimes to be freed on bail was approved by Wisconsin voters on Tuesday. Kelly and Protasiewicz had backed the suggested modification.