The field of four candidates running for a pivotal Wisconsin Supreme Court seat will be cut in half after Tuesday’s primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to an April 4 general election in the presidential battleground state.
Conservatives have controlled the court since 2008 and issued rulings handing Republicans victories on voting restrictions, gerrymandered legislative districts and other high-stakes cases.
But with a conservative justice retiring, voters now have a chance to tip that balance toward the left, with implications for abortion rights and perhaps the outcome of the next presidential election. The court came within one vote of overturning President Joe Biden’s win in the state in 2020.
Both sides are preparing for another close presidential race in 2024, with four of the past six contests in Wisconsin decided by less than a percentage point.
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Tuesday’s officially nonpartisan primary features two conservatives and two liberals. The conservatives are former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow, and the liberals are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell.
The next court is likely to issue key rulings on Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban law, legislative maps, union rights and challenges to election results.
Republicans also fear that laws they enacted over the past decade could be in jeopardy under a liberal court, such as a 2011 law signed that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees, a voter ID law, a ban on absentee ballot drop boxes, and a host of others.
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Protasiewicz has called the GOP-drawn legislative maps rigged and has made her support for abortion rights a focus of her campaign. Mitchell, who would be the first Black justice elected to the court, also has said the maps are unfair and expressed support for abortion rights.
Both conservative candidates are supported by anti-abortion groups in the state.
Dorow has been active in local Republican Party politics. Kelly was endorsed by Trump during his unsuccessful run two years ago and did work for both the state and national Republican parties the past two years, including advising on the scheme in Wisconsin to have fake electors cast ballots for Trump. Both candidates have been speaking to GOP groups across the state during the primary campaign.
Dorow became nationally known after presiding over the trial of Darrell Brooks Jr., who was convicted of killing six people when he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in 2021.
The campaign is expected to shatter national spending records. Outside groups had already spent some $7 million as of a week before the primary, about evenly split between the two sides, according to AdImpact Politics, which tracks advertising.
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