Voters could tip Wisconsin Supreme Court left on abortion, gerrymandering


Madison, Wis. – For 14 years, conservatives have controlled the Wisconsin Supreme Court, issued rulings that upheld union limits, upheld voter ID laws, expanded gun rights, Democratic Gov. Block options, ban and set up absentee ballot drop boxes. Political districts that ensured Republican dominance in state legislatures.

Now, a reliably conservative justice is retiring, and voters will decide in April whether liberals or conservatives have a majority.

It’s a decision that will have far-reaching consequences, as the court will decide in the coming years whether to uphold the state’s total ban on abortion. It could also fall into disputes over gerrymandering and the outcome of the next presidential election.

Although the race is technically nonpartisan, judicial candidates in recent years have teamed up with political parties, endorsed advocacy groups and telegraphed how they would decide cases. The campaign issues mirror November’s midterm elections, with liberal candidates focusing on abortion rights and voting rules and conservative candidates arguing for judicial restraint and gay rights. Showing opposition.

This year, spending could exceed a record $10 million in 2020, with much of that money coming from dark money groups that run tough ads attacking justice.

The race features two conservatives and two liberals, and a Feb. 21 primary would narrow the field to two for the April 4 general election. Political observers expect one liberal and one conservative to win through the primary.

One of the conservative candidates is Jennifer Durrow, a Waukesha County judge who told a conservative radio host that she is the “most electable” candidate because of her handling of a hit-and-run case involving a motorist. Because of the national exposure. At the Christmas parade, Daniel Kelly, who spent four years on the state Supreme Court and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in 2020, touted himself as the only candidate with a “proven public record of being a constitutional conservative.”

On the liberal side, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasewicz said she was running to “save democracy” and released an ad in which she is dressed in a court robe with a collar that resembles the U.S. Supreme Court. K points to the wearer of former Justice Ruth Bader. Ginsburg. Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, who would be the first black justice elected to the highest level. Court said he was participating to show the youth that “justice is the color of my skin.”

Three of the four candidates said in interviews that they worried the court’s image could be tarnished by partisan affiliations, but said there was no way to win without the support of the parties. A fourth, Durrow, declined interview requests but emphasized his Republican ties over the years.

For all expectations, the race has been largely uneventful. Seated at a long table at a recent candidate forum, Kelly and the Liberal candidates outlined their views on key decisions, while Durrow read notes and refrained from hinting at his thoughts. The liveliest moment came when the candidates were asked about their favorite founding fathers. Kelly called out Alexander Hamilton, and Mitchell jokingly threw up his hands and said, “Come on, man, everybody knows Alexander Hamilton. You’ve seen the musical.”

Often, only 20 percent of eligible voters participate in judicial elections, a fraction of the number who participate in gubernatorial and presidential races. Republican lawmakers are trying to put questions on the April ballot about bailouts and public assistance programs that they hope will boost conservative turnout. A liberal group is suing to keep them off the ballot, arguing that lawmakers did not follow state law in advancing the measures.

With a Democratic governor and Republican legislature, Wisconsin’s most important issues are often decided by the state Supreme Court. In recent years, the conservatives have often sided in 4-3 decisions, but sometimes one of their members, Brian Hagedorn, has joined the court’s liberals to form a majority. This followed the 2020 presidential election, when the court issued a series of rulings narrowly upholding Joe Biden’s victory.

On the campaign trail, liberal candidates have praised the court’s rulings on redistricting and voting rights. He praised the rulings against Trump and his allies and reminded voters that the court can again play a role in upholding the will of the voters.

Kelly, a conservative who lost his seat on the court in the April 2020 election, suggested that he also supported the decisions of the last presidential election, saying that he “didn’t see any argument that all the people who cast be disenfranchised. vote in this election.” (Dorrow, another conservative candidate, has not publicly expressed his views on the cases.)

Much of this winter’s campaign has focused on abortion. In the coming years, the court is certain to decide the fate of Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion in all cases except when the mother’s life is in danger. Dormant for 49 years, the ban took effect last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the ruling. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Judgment, reversed Roe v. Wade A case that established a nationwide right to abortion. A case involving the Wisconsin ban is now before a trial judge in Madison.

These states now ban or threaten abortion.

Liberal candidates stormed. Dobbs, Protasiewcz called the decision “judicial activism at its worst” and Mitchell said it was “one of the first times I’ve ever seen a right taken away that was cemented.”

Kelly, who once wrote that Democrats “favor abortion to preserve sexual freedom,” said his political views are irrelevant to the court’s work. Doro told a conservative radio host that Dobbs The decision “respects the constitutional framework we have in this country” by leaving it up to the states to decide whether to allow abortion. Both Kelly and Doro have received endorsements from anti-abortion groups.

Durrow had hinted at his views in his application for appointment to the bench in 2011. Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that established the right to same-sex intimacy and helped pave the way for the court’s ruling 12 years later guaranteeing the right to same-sex marriage. Duro called. Lawrence “The worst example of judicial activism,” she said during the candidate forum, refusing to say whether she stood for the position.

Kelly expressed similar views when he sought an appointment to the state’s high court in 2016 from then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) called U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the same-sex marriage case the best opinion in decades. Liberal candidates have said in interviews that they are in favor of same-sex intercourse and same-sex marriage decisions.

As Republicans inch away from election denial, one Wisconsin activist digs.

For a decade and a half, Wisconsin’s judicial races have become increasingly politicized, with candidates questioning whether sitting and would-be judges can handle cases impartially. In this campaign, the candidates have fought against last year’s 4-3 decision drawing state legislative districts that favor Republicans.

“My values ​​are that I protect democracy, that I believe that everyone’s vote should count, that right now I don’t think the maps are fair — I actually think they’re outrageously unfair.” are fair,” Protasiewicz said in an interview.

In interviews and at candidates’ forums, Protasiewicz called the maps “rigged.” Democrats are poised to file a bold lawsuit if liberals take control of the court, and Kelly questioned whether she would do it fairly.

“I think when someone tells you what their values ​​are in response to a legal question, they’re telling you how they’re going to decide the case,” Kelly said.

As a lawyer, Kelly defended a set of maps drafted in 2011 that favored Republicans. He said that as a justice he would not consider politics if he had to consider a redistricting case.

This week, the state Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against Protasiewicz over his comments about the cases. His allies dismissed it as a political stunt.

Protasiewicz, who has heavily fund-raised his opponents, is the only candidate with a TV ad so far. A spending spree may soon follow. A group affiliated with Republican megadonor Richard Ohlin has begun running radio ads for Kelly and has promised to eventually spend millions of dollars on her behalf.

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