According to The Associated Press, Wisconsin voters on Tuesday decided to change the state’s political course by electing a liberal candidate to the State Supreme Court, taking the majority power away from conservatives. As a result, the court is likely to overturn the state’s prohibition on abortion in the coming year and stop using Republican-drawn gerrymandered legislative districts.
Daniel Kelly, a conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who sought re-election, lost to leftist Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Judge Protasiewicz was in the lead by 10% after 90% of the votes had been tallied.
“Our state is taking a step forward to a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms will be protected,” she told jubilant supporters at her victory party in Milwaukee.
The election was the most costly judicial election in American history, costing over $40 million. Democrats early on understood the significance of the contest for a swing vote on the supreme court in one of the nation’s ongoing political hotbeds. Judge Protasiewicz’s campaign received millions of dollars from out-of-state donors, and it was backed by numerous national Democratic organisations.
When Judge Protasiewicz, 60, made her political priorities the focal point of her campaign, she upended long-held beliefs about how judicial candidates should behave themselves. She made clear that she was in favour of abortion rights and referred to the maps as “rigged” and “unfair,” which handed Republicans a near-supermajority in the Legislature.
Wisconsin’s liberals now hold a 4-to-3 majority on the court, which has been under the authority of conservatives since 2008, thanks to her election to a 10-year term in an officially neutral position. Until at least 2025, when a liberal justice’s tenure ends, the liberal party will control the majority of the court. The tenure of a conservative justice expires in 2026.
At Judge Protasiewicz’s election night party in Milwaukee as the winner was announced on Tuesday night, the three sitting liberal justices of the court hugged one another as onlookers sobbed with happiness. The judge and the other three liberal judges raised their hands in celebration as she finished her speech.
“Today’s results mean two very important and special things,” Judge Protasiewicz said. “First, it means that Wisconsin voters have made their voices heard. They have chosen to reject partisan extremism in this state. And second, it means our democracy will always prevail.”
With a testy acceptance speech that accepted his loss and foretold catastrophe for the state, Justice Kelly, 59, conveyed the bitterness of the campaign. He condemned “the putrid slanders that were launched against me” and dubbed his rival’s campaign “really beyond contempt.”
“I wish that I’d be able to concede to a worthy opponent, but I do not have a worthy opponent,” Green Lake, Wisconsin, supporters were told by Justice Kelly. After she made her victory speech, he still hadn’t called Judge Protasiewicz.
He concluded the final speech of his campaign by saying, “I wish Wisconsin the best of luck, because I think it’s going to need it.”
Judge Protasiewicz calculated from the beginning of the contest that voters in Wisconsin would reward her for being transparent about her views on abortion rights and the state’s maps – issues most likely to stir and motivate the Democratic Party base.
Judge Protasiewicz (pro-tuh-SAY-witz) credited her success on the campaign trail to her decision to inform voters of what she called “my principles,” as compared to Justice Kelly, who used fewer specifics about his positions, in an interview at her home on Tuesday before the results were known.
“Rather than reading between the lines and having to do your sleuthing around like I think people have to do with him, I think I would rather just let people know what my values are,” she said. “We’ll see tonight if the electorate appreciates that candor or not.”
The court has been a crucial safety net for Wisconsin Republicans for the past twelve years. It upheld voting limitations such the need for a state-issued ID and the ban on ballot drop boxes, as well as Gov. Scott Walker’s initial reforms to state government, such as Act 10’s elimination of public employee unions.
Only Wisconsin’s Supreme Court agreed to consider President Donald J. Trump’s appeal of the results of the presidential election in 2020. 200,000 votes from the two most Democratic counties in the state were targeted for invalidation by Mr. Trump. With one of the conservative judges sided with the court’s three liberal justices on procedural grounds, the Wisconsin court rejected his claim by a vote of 4 to 3.
Because that the justices will have an impact on voting and election concerns pertaining to the 2024 election, that decisive vote gave the court contest this year added significance. Wisconsin will once again be fiercely contested because Mr. Trump’s victory there in 2016 broke a run of Democratic presidential victories dating back to 1988.
In cases that have received little attention outside of the state, the court has sided with Republicans.
Conservative judges decided to restrict Gov. Tony Evers’ line-item veto power in 2020, a year after the Democrat succeeded Mr. Walker as governor of Wisconsin. Historically, Wisconsin governors of both parties had used this power extensively. Against Mr. Evers’s objections, the court’s conservatives last year permitted a Walker appointee whose term had already expired to continue serving.
The first order of business for Wisconsin Democrats after Judge Protasiewicz takes her seat on the bench on August 1 will be to file a lawsuit challenging the existing legislative boundaries, which have given Republicans a near-total hold on the state legislature in Madison.
The day after Judge Protasiewicz takes office, according to Jeffrey A. Mandell, the head of Law Forward, a liberal law firm that has defended Mr. Evers, a legal petition to have a redistricting case heard by the Supreme Court would be filed.
“Pretty much everything problematic in Wisconsin flows from the gerrymandering,” Mr. Mandell said in an interview on Tuesday. “Trying to address the gerrymander and reverse the extreme partisan gerrymandering we have is the highest priority.”
Josh Kaul, Wisconsin’s Democratic attorney general, is already contesting the state’s 1849 abortion prohibition, which was put into effect seven decades before women were allowed to vote. The first oral arguments in Mr. Kaul’s case were set for May 4 by a circuit court in Dane County this week, but regardless of the county judge’s decision, the matter will almost certainly be appealed to the State Supreme Court later this year.