High-Stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court Race May Determine Future of Abortion Laws

In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court race could potentially alter the future of both the state’s abortion laws and the nation’s presidential election in 2024. The race is between Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge backed by Democrats, and Daniel Kelly, a previous state Supreme Court Justice backed by Republicans. Currently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court holds a conservative majority of 4-3. However, conservative Justice Patience Roggensack’s retirement opened the door to the potential change of ideological majority of the court for at least the next two years.

The race is believed to be a vital one for both parties, as it’s the most expensive state judicial race ever recorded. The outcome of the battle could prove decisive in the fight to shape the state’s abortion laws. In 1849, after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, Wisconsin implemented a statute prohibiting abortion.

Wisconsin is one of over a dozen states where Supreme Court justices are directly elected, and the victors are granted 10-year terms. The contest is technically nonpartisan, although political parties endorse their preferred candidates. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that spending in this year’s election rose to $28.8 million as of March 29, becoming the highest recorded expenditure in the history of the state’s judicial battle. The previous record was held by an Illinois contest that incurred $15.4 million in spending in 2004.

The court’s decision may have an impact on voter participation in the 2024 US presidential election. Protasiewicz is running to “restore integrity to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and remove politics from the courtroom,” while Kelly is the more conservative candidate who once served on the state’s Supreme Court and calls himself a “strict constructionist.” Kelly promises to “rely on the text of the law and the constitution as written”.

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