By Phillip M. Bailey
Milwaukee Judge Janet Protasiewicz won a nationally watched judicial election Tuesday, which will likely give liberals the edge in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The 60-year-old prosecutor, who was supported heavily by Democrats and progressive groups, defeated former Justice Daniel Kelly, who was backed largely by Republican-aligned organizations and activists.
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Much of the race, which was officially nonpartisan, was defined by abortion access in the state, which was made immediately illegal in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last summer.
But given Wisconsin’s battleground state status, this judicial race could also matter in the 2024 presidential race.
Here are the key takeaways.
1849 abortion law on the line
A pre-Civil War law criminalizes abortion even in cases of rape or incest and only allows it if the mother’s life is in danger.
Republican lawmakers tried to add exceptions in 2022, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made clear he would veto any measure that upheld the overall ban.
With a divided state government that puts the issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s hands.
A ruling will likely be issued around a lawsuit brought by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to block the law later this year.
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Protasiewicz’s win gives liberals a 4-3 majority, which could spell doom for the 174-year-old law.
Wisconsin’s legislative maps
One thing that this election’s outcome could change is the makeup of Congress.
Republicans currently hold 6 out of 8 congressional seats in the state after scoring a big win last during last year’s midterm elections.
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The Wisconsin Supreme Court got involved after Evers vetoed the district lines drawn up by the Republican-controlled state legislature. It then adopted the governor’s suggested maps, saying in a 4-3 ruling it represented the “least change.”
But some Democrats and their allies /wanted maps that split the state’s congressional delegation more evently, and they could be emboldened to seek that now.
Most expensive U.S. judicial race?
One thing that defined this race was how it took on the feeling of U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contests.
The early fundraising figures show it easily surpassed the $45 million spending mark, which crushed the previous high for a state judicial election of $15.1 million spent during a 2004 Illinois contest, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
2024 presidential election
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out Donald Trump’s election lawsuit seeking to revoke his loss.
That put this judicial race in a different lens should there be a candidate who would contest the 2024 presidential results.
Few states are as competitive as the Badger State.
Four of the last six White House contests have been decided by less than a percentage point. Democratics control the governor’s mansion, and Democrats heavily backed Protasiewicz in Tuesday’s election.
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