2023’s Biggest, Most Unusual Race Centers on Abortion and Democracy

In 10 weeks, Wisconsin will hold an election with greater policy benefits than any other US election in 2023.

The race in April, for a seat on the state’s equally divided Supreme Court, will decide the fate of abortion rights, the streamlined legislative map, and the governor’s appointment power — and maybe even the state’s 2024 presidential election if the results are contested again.

The court’s importance stems from the deadlocked state government of Wisconsin. Since 2019, Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, has faced off against the Republican-controlled Legislature with near-majority control thanks to one of the country’s legislatures. . the most active partisan gerrymanderitself was approved last year by Wisconsin judges.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is empowered to hear a range of thorny issues in the state and is almost always on the side of Republicans. But now, with a conservative justice retired, libertarians hope to reverse many of those decisions by taking control of the vacant seat and its 10-year term.

“If you change the control of the Supreme Court from relatively conservative to quite liberal, that would be a big change,” said David T. Prosser Jr., a retired former conservative judge. very large and will last quite a while. court in 2016.

The race will almost certainly break spending records on a judicial election in any state, and could even double the most expensive race today. Wisconsinites will be flooded with a flurry of ads, turning an otherwise dull spring election the latest marker in the state’s restless political season. The chair was nominally nonpartisan, with officials from both parties lining up behind the chosen candidates.

Indeed, the clash for the court is striking because of its bare political level.

While previous state judicial candidates and U.S. Supreme Court candidates have largely avoid considering specific issues — instead of offering dubious judicial philosophies and expecting voters or senators to read between the lines — some Wisconsin candidates are making all but clear arguments for how they should be. will rule on topics likely to come before the court.

Janet Protasiewicz, a libertarian district judge from suburban Milwaukee who is in charge of both fundraising and a new approach to judicial campaigning, dismisses the theory that she doesn’t hold her ground. firmly on the hottest issues. She turns heads this month at a candidate forum when she declared the state’s pre-assembled legislative maps to be “fraudulent”.

In an interview last week, Judge Protasiewicz argued that abortion should be “a woman’s right to choose”; say Governor Scott Walker’s 2011 Law effectively ending the right to collective bargaining for most public servants is unconstitutional; and predicts that, if she wins, the court will hear a lawsuit seeking to invalidate congressional and legislative maps of the state drawn up by Republicans brought in last year.

“Obviously, if we have a majority of four to three, then we will most likely revisit the maps,” she said.

The other liberal candidate, Judge Everett Mitchell of Dane County, which includes Madison, the state capital, said in an interview that “the map lines aren’t fair.”

Both candidates have also expressed full support for the right to abortion, which was made illegal last summer under a law enacted in 1849 but being challenged by the state’s Democratic attorney general in a case that is likely to appear in court this year.

Their statement shows that the race is transforming into a statewide election like any other in Wisconsin, a perpetual political battleground. Like the gubernatorial, state attorney general, and Senate races in November, the court election is set to focus on abortion rights (for Democrats) and crime (for Democrats). Republican Party).

“We are still in the early stages,” said Mark Graul, a Republican political activist in the state who volunteers for Jennifer R. Dorow, a conservative Waukesha County judge on the Supreme Court. November’s hangover, where the top two problems are crime and abortion. species. Judge Dorow presides over experiment last fall of a man convicted of killing six people by driving through a 2021 Christmas parade.

Judge Dorow and another conservative, Dan Kelly, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court judge, who lose the 2020 election to keep his seat, will compete with two libertarians in the official nonpartisan primaries on February 21 to replace Justice Patience D. Roggensack, who is retiring.

The top two will advance to a general election on April 4, with the winner going to join a court divided between three conservative and three liberal justices.

In the narrowly divided state of Wisconsin, a one-seat advantage is all it takes to change state politics.

In recent years, in addition to approving maps drawn by the Republican Party, the court has ruled that most ballot boxes for absentee ballots is illegal; knocking down Mr. Evers’ efforts to mitigate the pandemic; stripped of regulatory powers from the superintendent of state schools, a Democrat; allowed the political appointees of his Republican predecessor Evers hold office expired long ago; and require some public schools to pay for buses to parish schools.

Many of those cases, which Democrats hope to withdraw, have been brought to court by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Freedom, a legal and advisory organization that has served as a lead. state conservative movement. The group’s founder, Rick M. Esenberg, said the court’s role should be to uphold the laws exactly as the lawmakers wrote them down — not recommend major changes to them.

“Having control of the judiciary does not mean you can introduce new policy,” Mr. Esenberg said. “Some judicial candidates have spoken as if that is exactly what is at stake. And for them, it can happen as well.”

Conservative candidates, Judge Kelly and Judge Dorow, are less forthright about how they will govern, but both leave plenty of clues for voters. Justice Kelly joined last year on a Wisconsin Republican-sponsored “election integrity” tour. Judge Dorow, who was so popular in suburban Milwaukee that people Dress up like her last Halloweensay in a 2016 legal question that the worst decision of the Supreme Court of the United States was Lawrence v. Texas, decision in 2003 to abolish the law against sodomy.

Both have ties to former President Donald J. Trump. In 2020, Mr. Trump endorsed Justice Kelly and praised him at a rally in Milwaukee. Judge Dorow’s husband, Brian Dorow, is a security official for Trump campaign events in Wisconsin. Neither Judge Kelly nor Judge Dorow agreed to be interviewed.

The race broke the state’s fundraising record for a judicial race. Judge Protasiewicz – whose campaign on Tuesday released a cheeky video teaches Wisconsinites how to say her name: pro-tuh-SAY-witz – raised $924,000 last year, more than any Wisconsin Supreme Court nominee in the year before the election . Judge Dorow and Judge Kelly each raised about a third of the money, while Judge Mitchell collected $115,000.

More money will flow in from outside groups and state political parties, which have no limits on what they can receive and spend. Both parties are expected to funnel tens of millions of dollars to their preferred candidates in the general election.

Justice Kelly has the support of the billionaire Uihlein family, whom the political action committee pledged to spend last year millions of dollars on behalf of him. So far, the Uihleins family’s contribution is only $40,000 — one pair of personal contributions max for your campaign. Last year, the Uihlein-backed super PAC spent $28 million in Wisconsin’s Senate race; Richard and Liz Uihlein contributed an additional $2.8 million to the state’s Republican Party.

Dan Curry, a spokesman for Fair Courts America, the Uihleins political action committee, declined to answer questions about the family’s spending plans in the Supreme Court race.

The huge stakes in the race have so far not been met by commensurate public interest. Charles Franklin, director of the poll, said Marquette University Law School, which conducts Wisconsin’s most prestigious political polls, has no plans to poll voters about the Supreme Court election .

Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said it was certain that race spending would eclipse the most expensive US judicial race on record, a $15 million campaign in 2004. for the Illinois Supreme Court, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Mr. Wikler, who has spent recent weeks monetizing major Democratic Party donors, said he hopes to make the race a popular national target for libertarians. like Jon Ossoff. Campaign House 2017 in Georgia or referendum on abortion rights in Kansas last year.

He quoted 4 to 3 judgment of the court in December 2020 rejected the Trump campaign’s attempt to nullify 200,000 votes in Milwaukee County and Dane County — an argument that has resonated with leading Democrats in Washington. concerned that a more conservative court could reach the opposite conclusion in the future.

“Wisconsin is incredibly important to the presidency,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said in an interview. “The Supreme Court is a firewall for an extreme Legislature that wants to restrict voting rights. And so this election is very important, not just for Wisconsin but for the country.”

Eric H. Holder Jr., a former attorney general who heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, plans to campaign in the state after the primaries.

For Wisconsin Democrats, the election is an opportunity to imagine a world in which they can control policy instead of simply trying to block Republican proposals. after decades of playing a defensive role.

In an interview last month, Mr Evers called the race “a big deal.” His campaign attorney, Jeffrey A. Mandell, said that if a libertarian candidate wins, Mr. Mandell will ask the State Supreme Court to take direct action to invalidate his legislative map. state on August 2, the day after the new judge took his seat.

Kelda Roys, a Democratic state senator, said the campaign will focus almost exclusively on abortion rights – because next justice will be in a position to overturn the state’s ban and because, she established Arguably, the midterm elections show that it’s a winning issue.

“Even more so than in November,” Ms. Roys said.

Kitty Bennett contribution research.


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