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Why Wisconsin’s Spring Supreme Court is the Most Important Race Shaping 2024

Posted on January 31, 2023

This “go deeper” summary is slightly edited from the original by Dr. Friedland, who is also lead author of the 2022 Cambridge University Press book Battleground.

Lew Friedland, Win Wisconsin

Wisconsin will elect a new justice to its Supreme Court on April 4; a February 21 primary will decide which candidates go forward in the four-person field.  Although the election is technically nonpartisan, the court now has a 4-3 conservative majority, including three ultra-conservatives who supported Trump’s challenge to the 2022 election. Two progressives and two ultra-conservatives are running.  The current Supreme Court has made some of the most anti-democratic decisions in the country!  If we win, the court will flip to 4-3 progressive.

The Stakes

Wisconsin was the tipping point state in 2016 and 2020 and will likely be again in 2024.

The current conservative court has:

  • Prohibited drop boxes and barred absentee ballot return assistance;
  • Adopted a standard of “least changes” to the gerrymandered Wisconsin redistricting map, the worst in the nation;
  • Given the legislature carte blanche to spend more than $1 million on private lawyers to try and overturn the 2020 election; );
  • Prohibited the governor from acting to protect public health during the pandemic;

Winning this one seat will:

  • Open the door to fair districting maps, both state and congressional, making possible a full restoration of democracy in the state;
  • Protect the right to abortion, hanging by a thread under current law;
  • Restore voting rights.

The Contest

The two conservatives running are Dan Kelly, a former supreme court justice who was defeated in 2020 and extremist Waukesha Judge Jennifer Dorow (who has said that the SCOTUS decision legitimizing LGBTQ relationships is among “the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time”). Both were appointed by hard-right former governor Scott Walker.  The two progressives are Everett Mitchell, Dane County circuit judge, and Janet Protasiewicz, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge.    The danger is that in a four-person race, the two conservatives could go forward from the primary. But Kelly has lost once before, and Dorow is an extremist.  We can win this race!

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