Janet Protasiewicz Wins Wisconsin State Supreme Court Race, Tipping Court’s Balance to Progressives

Janet Protasiewicz Wins Wisconsin State Supreme Court Race, Tipping Court’s Balance to Progressives
Judge Janet Protasiewicz onstage during the live taping of "Pod Save America," hosted by WisDems at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wis., on March 18, 2023. (Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems)
Savannah Hulsey Pointer

Former Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz was projected the winner of the April 4 Wisconsin state Supreme Court race, tipping the court’s balance from a 4–3 conservative majority to a 4–3 progressive majority.

Protasiewicz won the race over runner-up Daniel Kelly, according to Decision Desk HQ. Her success was likely due in part to her reportedly well out-fundraising her three opponents.
Her campaign website says she is running to “restore integrity to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and get politics out of the courtroom.” She also claims that her “entire life, the constitutional right to privacy has been settled law.”

“We know it’s not up to the government to decide who we can or can’t love,” she continued. “We know the 2020 election resulted in Joe Biden’s election.”

“We must restore confidence that judges aren’t just trying to reach their favored outcomes, but actually applying the law and the constitution,” she said, adding that “our most closely-held constitutional rights are under attack by radical right-wing extremists.”

The outcome of the race, which is believed to be the most expensive state judicial race ever, could decisively impact the future of abortion laws in the state.

Wisconsin is one of more than a dozen states whose Supreme Court justices are directly elected, and victors get 10-year terms. While the races are technically nonpartisan, political parties make their support for candidates quite clear.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, this year’s election expenditures reached $28.8 million as of March 29. The previous high for spending on a state judicial battle was $15.4 million in an Illinois contest in 2004.
This election is likely to determine how the court will rule on legal challenges to Wisconsin’s 1849 statute prohibiting abortion, which was implemented after the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.

Protasiewicz strongly supports liberalizing abortion access, earning an endorsement from the pro-abortion advocacy organization Emily’s Choice, which “backs Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights.”

The organization said in its endorsement statement that this was “the first time in its 38-year history” that it was endorsing a candidate in a state judicial race.

At her primary victory celebration on Feb. 21, Protasiewicz told supporters that in the upcoming general election, “I'll be running against someone who doesn’t think women get to make their own reproductive rights,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“I will guarantee you that my opponent, if elected, will uphold the 1849 near-total abortion ban,” she said.

According to The Washington Post, Protasiewicz also feels that the state’s election maps are “rigged” and that people are very anxious about the 2024 presidential election and whether or not it will get into the Supreme Court chamber.

Conservative former Wisconsin state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, who came in second with almost 25 percent of the vote, calls himself a “strict constructionist.”

Kelly campaigned on the belief that state government should pass laws and the court should interpret them and not inject personal political ideas into the courtroom.

Kelly’s campaign website promised to “preserve constitutional rights, uphold the rule of law, and prevent judicial activism” if elected.

Conservatives have enjoyed a 4–3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court during the last decade. The election was held to fill a vacancy left by Patience Roggensack’s decision not to run for reelection.

The outgoing justice is nearing the end of her second 10-year term.

Ross Muscato and Amy Gamm contributed to this report.