The biggest election of 2023 is happening right now in Wisconsin, where voters will decide the balance of the state’s Supreme Court. Right now, conservatives on that court have a 4-3 majority, but a right-wing justice is retiring, so if a progressive replaces her, that would give liberals control of the court. Here are two very good reasons to get involved and help Judge Janet Protasiewicz win that seat: Saving democracy and saving abortion rights in the state.
It doesn’t get more fundamental than that.
First, however, she has to be one of the two top vote-getters in the nonpartisan primary on Feb. 21 in order to advance to the April 4 general election. The current court, with its 4-3 conservative majority, has already worked to suppress the vote, banning ballot drop boxes and, during the height of the pre-vaccine COVID pandemic in April 2020, overturning an executive order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to temporarily postpone elections until they could be conducted safely. The court is also going to end up determining if the state rockets back to 1849 and bans abortion.
The two conservatives in the race, former Justice Dan Kelly and Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow, are on record supporting election deniers in the state legislature and their efforts to dismantle election laws. At a right-wing forum held in December, both said they would support legislative investigations into efforts to make voting more accessible.
Kelly told state Rep. Janel Brandtjen that Republican legislators should have far more oversight over government, including elections. Brandtjen had just been stripped of all her committee assignments and banned from attending meetings of the GOP Assembly’s caucus over her efforts to push investigations into 2020 election fraud. She has also been active in the effort to have Wisconsin’s 2020 election decertified, a thing that cannot happen.
At the same forum, Dorow tacitly invited the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a right-wing group devoted to suing to bring down liberal policies and forcing their own agenda on the state, to bring their cases to her. You remember Dorow, she’s the one with the gun range. The one who wants to be able to serve alcohol at her gun range. Yeah, that’s someone with the sound judgment you want on your supreme court!
She, or election-denier adjacent Kelly, would be deciding on cases like the effort to enforce a 19th-century abortion ban and end access to abortion in the state. In 2022, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers were both reelected, with abortion rights playing a key role in the election. They’re spearheading the lawsuit that would overturn the state’s abortion ban, passed way back in 1849. Roe v. Wade superseded that law, but the Trump-packed Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision could resurrect—if the state Supreme Court allows it.
“It’s a confluence of things, not all of them planned, that have made this race as important as any election in the state,” Barry Burden, a political science professor and election expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the 19th. “All of the most controversial, difficult things seem to end up [at the state Supreme Court],” Burden added.
That’s precisely because there’s divided government, a Republican legislature and a Democratic state executive, and the Republican side of things is, well, Republican. Those people gave us Sen. Ron Johnson again, after all.
All of the fights that will matter for the 2024 election are going to be previewed in Wisconsin, and in fact, the makeup of its Supreme Court could very well help determine whether democracy prevails in that election. Wisconsin is ripe for GOP efforts to steal the state for Trump or whatever Republican is on the ballot. The state Supreme Court needs to be a backstop.
This election in Wisconsin is going to serve as a bellwether for 2024. Why else would Fair Courts USA, funded by the shipping magnate and Republican megadonor Richard Uihlein, be putting more than $1 million in dark money into this race.
We need to fight dark money with people money, with the small-dollar donations that have helped keep democracy alive and kicking for the past few decades. Please help by kicking in $10.