Early Voting Ramps Up For Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race. Here’s What’s At Stake


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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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  • Early voting for the highly contentious Wisconsin Supreme Court race began Tuesday, which will determine whether the Court retains or loses its conservative majority. 
  • Liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz and conservative Justice Dan Kelly will face off on April 4 for the vacant seat left behind by conservative Justice Patience Roggensack.
  • “The stakes in this race couldn’t be higher. Basically the past 25 years of conservative reform are on the line if Janet Protasiewicz is elected to the court,” Rachel Reisner, Wisconsin GOP spokeswoman, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Early voting began Tuesday for Wisconsin’s vacant Supreme Court seat, a highly competitive race that will determine how the state rules on cases concerning crime, abortion and other contentious topics.

The coming weeks of early voting lead up to a head-to-head matchup between liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, conservative Dan Kelly, on April 4. The Wisconsin race will decide who controls the bench, as conservative Justice Patience Roggensack’s retirement leaves the current 4-3 conservative majority in question. 

“The stakes in this race couldn’t be higher. Basically the past 25 years of conservative reform are on the line if Janet Protasiewicz is elected to the court,” Rachel Reisner, Wisconsin GOP spokeswoman, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “She’s pretty much promised how she would judge or overturn several big reforms that have really helped our state.”

Protasiewicz, who said she “embraces” the progressive label, has given less severe punishments to felons than were suggested by prosecutors, two of which involve the sexual assault of a minor. In both cases, the criminals served no jail time, and one re-offended with the same child – Protasiewicz said she did not regret those sentences.

The liberal judge was also endorsed by an anti-police group, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which seeks to decriminalize drug use, let elderly offenders walk free and increase the age of a minor to 25. (RELATED: Liberal, Conservative Judges To Square Off In Pivotal Battleground State Court Election)

“Janet Protasiewicz has an uncanny record of protecting violent criminals rather than Wisconsin citizens,” Reisner told the DCNF. “Her idea of fair, appropriate and common sense is releasing them back to potentially re-offend.”

Kelly has a long list of endorsements from county sheriffs across the state, and released an ad on Friday targeting Protasiewicz’ record on crime. The video featured sheriffs endorsing Kelly and condemning the liberal judge for releasing criminals from jail and “undermining the work” of policemen.

Protasiewicz “will vigorously defend our constitutional freedoms and women’s right to make her own decision when it comes to abortion,” her campaign manager told Wisconsin Public Radio.

The liberal judge was endorsed by Hillary Clinton, EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood, all on the grounds of abortion rights. Protasiewicz has been vocal about her criticism of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban, which Reisner said indicates how she would rule and opens the door for these pro-abortion groups to come equipped with litigation if she wins the election.

“She has made abortion pretty much the center of her campaign. It is a judicial race, policy is not what the court is about,” said Reisner. “As far as we can tell, she would be okay with absolutely no restrictions up until the moment or past the moment of birth.”

Kelly doesn’t share his political views on abortion publicly or indicate how he would rule in such cases, he said in a Tuesday debate. He insisted that his endorsements from pro-life groups, like the Wisconsin Right to Life, “had nothing to do with the pledges required of those who run for political office.”

“Regardless of his personal politics or personal values, those get set aside when he’s on the bench. Kelly is a conservative constitutionalist and has a strong record of upholding the constitution, protecting the rule of law, and he will give any case that comes before him a fair shake. He is a very common sense jurist,” said Reisner.

“Janet Protasiewicz is a highly-partisan politician who has promised to put her thumb on the scales when hearing cases. She is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court and can’t be trusted to uphold the rule of law,” Ben Voelkel, Kelly’s campaign advisor, told the DCNF.

In April 2022, the conservative-held Court ruled 4 – 3 in favor of redistricting maps drawn up by Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers, which Protasiewicz said were not reflective of the state’s population.

“Janet has openly referred to our legislative maps as ‘rigged,’ countless times, so she’s essentially prejudged what she would do if those maps came to the court again,” said Reisner. “She might say she’s gonna wear a black robe, but based on everything else we’ve seen, it’s clear that her robe will be blue.”

Protasiewicz’ campaign did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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