Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz is projected to win the vacant seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, marking the first time in 15 years that the court will have a liberal majority, according to The Associated Press.
Protasiewicz and her challenger, former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, were seeking to replace outgoing conservative Justice Patience Roggensack on the court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has a 4-3 conservative majority, but with Roggensack’s retirement, the partisan lean of the court hung in the balance.
The election will have clear consequences for a host of issues in the state, including a contested 1849 abortion ban that offers very limited exceptions, redistricting and even possible challenges to the 2024 election results.
Though the judicial race is technically nonpartisan, Protasiewicz and Kelly were seen as the liberal and conservative contenders, respectively. The two made it into the Tuesday race after they became the two top vote-getters during the initial February election, which featured four candidates in total.
Protasiewicz placed first during the February election with 47 percent of the vote, while Kelly came in second at 24 percent.
One analysis of the race by WisPolitics.com has suggested that more than $45 million has been spent in total.
Protasiewicz has been notably outspoken on her views on abortion, airing one ad in which she expressed support for the medical procedure, and for calling the state’s election maps “rigged.” That drew criticism from her opponent who argued she was offering her opinions on issues she could weigh before the court, though both candidates have refrained from saying how they’d officially rule on litigation such as the 1849 law.
At the same time, the candidates’ endorsements have neatly fallen along ideological lines, with anti-abortion rights groups supporting Kelly while abortion rights groups are backing Protasiewicz.
While Democrats and experts alike agree that abortion has appeared to be a galvanizing issue for voters, Kelly and outside groups have sought to countermessage by highlighting Protasiewicz’s criminal sentencing record and suggesting she’s soft on crime.
The Milwaukee County judge’s campaign has argued her opponent was “cherry picking” her record.
Protasiewicz for her part has sought to cast Kelly as an extremist and targeted him over details that surfaced during the race that he was involved in discussions over a fake elector scheme in 2020.
“Justice Kelly was hired by the [Republican Party of Wisconsin] and RNC as a special counsel in August of 2020-before the November election. He was hired to advise on the ins and outs of all Wisconsin election law when needed and not just on so-called ‘election integrity’ law issues,” Kelly’s campaign says on its website about the matter.
“Justice Kelly was not only not at the center of any alternate elector plan, he had no knowledge of such a plan outside of one requested thirty-minute phone call on the subject. As congressional testimony has established, he was ‘not in the loop’ on any such plan.”