Wisconsin Judge Allows Republican Initiatives To Appear On General Supreme Court Ballot

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 08: A voter casts their ballot at the Hillel Foundation on November 8, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)
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A Wisconsin judge on Monday batted down a challenge to ballot initiatives passed by the state’s Republican legislature — its apparent attempt to juice turnout for a high-stakes Supreme Court election.

If the groups don’t appeal, the questions will appear on the April 4 general election ballot; the primary election for the race, which will decide which two candidates advance to the general, is on Tuesday.

Two of the initiatives, which would amend the state constitution, would allow judges to take into account people’s criminal histories when setting bail. The other, a nonbinding advisory question, asks voters whether childless adults should have to perform job searches to receive “tax-payer funded welfare benefits” — something state law already requires recipients of unemployment insurance to do.

Dane County District Court Judge Rhonda Lanford ruled that the groups challenging the ballot initiatives — EXPO Wisconsin Inc., a group advocating for formerly incarcerated people, and its parent social justice network — failed to prove that they’d suffer “irreparable harm” or to prove that they’d likely succeed on the merits. They’d argued that the initiatives were filed with country clerks too late to appear on the ballot.

The top two vote getters on Tuesday, regardless of ideological alignment, will proceed to the general election. There are four candidates running: two liberals and two conservatives. The election could change the ideological majority on the court, with enormous ramifications for the state’s trajectory.

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, the liberals, have spoken candidly about the need to protect abortion access; Protasiewicz has also called the aggressively gerrymandered Wisconsin district maps “rigged” and suggested that the court would take up a challenge to them if she won. 

Dan Kelly, a former right-wing state Supreme Court justice who lost his seat in 2020, embarked on a Republican “election integrity” tour in Wisconsin last summer, has praised the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell and has said that Democrats and advocates support abortion rights “to preserve sexual libertinism.” Fellow conservative Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow has praised the Dobbs decision and singled out the U.S. Supreme Court’s banning of anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas as an example of “judicial activism at its worst.”

This bench will also handle any disputes stemming from the 2024 election, all but a certainty after Donald Trump’s 2020 election denialism.  

The race is on track to break spending records, as millions pour into the state. 

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