Wisconsin voters elected Judge Janet Protasiewicz, backed by the Democratic Party, to the state Supreme Court after a contentious election for the critical swing seat. The election set the stage for challenges to the state's 1849 law banning most abortions. The race was the most expensive judicial contest in U.S. history, showing how state courts have become the focus of increasingly partisan politics. Protasiewicz serves on a lower court. Her opponent, Daniel Kelly, was appointed to fill a high court vacancy in 2016 but lost an election in 2020 to retain his seat and has worked as a lawyer for the Republican Party. With 87% of the vote in at 10:30 p.m. Protasiewicz had 55% of the vote to Kelly’s 45%, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Kelly gave a bitter concession speech in which he said his opponent wasn’t worthy and that her campaign was “truly beneath contempt.” Because the governor is a Democrat and the state legislature is led by Republicans, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has become a venue for interest groups facing legislative stalemate. A 2015 change to state finance laws that allowed state political parties to give unlimited funds to judicial candidates also helped supercharge partisan spending.. Wisconsin high-court elections have attracted an unusual amount of attention from national groups because the court is closely divided along ideological lines. Protasiewicz’s win gives her a 10-year term and the seven-member court its first liberal majority in recent memory. That could provide left-leaning groups a better shot at challenging the 1849 abortion law. “In terms of the Supreme Court, this is a once-in-a-generation decision,” said Edward Barnett, 57, of Milwaukee. “This is for control of the court—which is supposedly nonpartisan—but we know nothing is nonpartisan anymore,” said Barnett, who voted for Protasiewicz.