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A Colossal Off-Year Election in Wisconsin

NYTimes: Reid J. Epstein | Published on 1/16/2023

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 Arguably the most important election in America in 2023 is the April 4 contest for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The winner will determine whether conservatives or liberals hold a 4-to-3 majority in a critical presidential battleground state.

Here’s what’s at stake in the election →
Wisconsin Democrats want to overturn the state’s 1849 law prohibiting abortion in nearly all cases and end an aggressive legislative gerrymander drawn by Republicans. This election is liberals’ last chance for a while; if conservatives win the seat, they will hold a majority on the court until at least 2026.

Conservatives have controlled the court since 2008. Though the court upheld Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, last year it ruled drop boxes illegal, allowed a purge of the voter rolls to take place and installed redistricting maps drawn by Republican legislators despite the objections of Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

The fight over democracy in Wisconsin won’t be cheap. The campaign is likely to be the most expensive judicial election in U.S. history, with total spending expected to exceed $30 million. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the most expensive campaign for one judicial seat came in 2004 in Illinois, when $15 million was spent on a State Supreme Court race.

Who’s running? The liberals are Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell, county judges from Milwaukee and Madison. The conservatives are Daniel Kelly, a former State Supreme Court justice, and Jennifer Dorow, a Waukesha County judge. A nonpartisan primary on Feb. 21 will narrow the field to two.

The contours of the race are emerging. At a candidate forum last week, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” and assailed the Supreme Court decision last year overturning the federal right to an abortion. The conservative candidates are focused on messaging about crime.