With Primary Decided, Stage Is Set For Wisconsin Supreme Court Barnburner

Liberal Janet Protasiewicz and conservative Dan Kelly garnered the most primary votes.
Courtesy: janetforjustice.com / wicourts.gov.
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One liberal and one conservative won the most votes Tuesday, setting up a massively significant Wisconsin Supreme Court general election on April 4.

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly — ideological opposites on many hot-button issues — will square off in an election that could alter the state’s trajectory. If Protasiewicz wins, liberals will retake the court’s majority for the first time in nearly 15 years. 

Protasiewicz was the first to make it through to the general election; the Associated Press called her primary night win well under an hour after polls closed.

Kelly snatched second place after duking it out with Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, who placed a close third. Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell, the other liberal in the race, trailed in fourth. Democrats considered Dorow the stronger general election opponent, especially in light of Kelly’s 10-point-plus loss to Jill Karofsky in 2020.

Dynamics between the two conservatives became acrimonious at the tail-end of the race, as Kelly refused to say if he’d endorse Dorow, should she best him in the primary. 

The already eye-poppingly expensive race will only become more so. This bench is expected to face cases on the state’s draconian abortion ban, aggressively gerrymandered maps and any potential disputes stemming from the 2024 election.

Protasiewicz has campaigned on protecting abortion access and called the Republican-passed legislative and congressional maps “rigged.” 

Kelly was revealed last week to have been paid $120,000 by Republicans to advise on the fake electors scheme in Wisconsin, a key gambit in Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. He’s been on the Republican National Committee’s payroll as recently as December.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court narrowly dismissed Trump’s election lawsuit in 2020 — a decision that prompted Kelly to call Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, the only conservative who joined the liberals, “supremely unreliable.”  

Kelly has also accused groups supporting abortion access of doing so “to preserve sexual libertinism,” participated in a Big Lie-fueled “election integrity” tour and expressed support for the late Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges.

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