WISCONSIN - Two elections this spring will determine who will win the seat being vacated by former Chief Justice Pat Roggensack on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The winner will serve a 10-year term. With Roggensack stepping down, there is currently an even split on the court of three justices who lean more conservative, and three justices that lean more liberal.
Outcome of the Tuesday, Feb. 21, nonpartisan primary election will determine which two of the four candidates currently in the race will face each other in the April 4 nonpartisan general election. Those four candidates are Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell, former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, and Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow.
Janet for Justice
So far, Judge Janet Protasiewicz is the only candidate to have made a campaign stop in Crawford County. In recent weeks she has met with voters in Prairie du Chien, Viroqua, Richland Center, Spring Green, Mineral Point, Barneveld and more.
According to WisPolitics.com, Milwaukee County Protasiewicz raised more during the most recent reporting period than her three rivals for state Supreme Court combined. Her campaign pulled in $756,117 during the full six-month period that ended Dec. 31.
Protasiewicz has reported 14 donors who gave her the maximum contribution of $20,000. They include: Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein; California doctor and Democrat megadonor Karla Jurvetson; former Supreme Court candidate Tim Burns; and philanthropists David Lubar, Marianne Lubar and Madeleine Lubar.
She also received $18,000 each from the Operating Engineers 139 PAC and the American Federation of Teachers 212.
At her Saturday, Feb. 3 campaign appearance in Prairie du Chien, Protasiewicz joked with people present about how citizens throughout the state have struggled to correctly pronounce her last name. Her campaign aide shared a funny video of people attempting the correct pronunciation.
Her last name is pronounced “Pro-tay-sah-wiss.”
“I’m running to prevent right-wing extremists from hijacking our state Supreme Court,” Protasiewicz told the more than 30 people at the event last Saturday. “The outcome of this spring’s election will determine everything we care about.”
One of Protasiewicz’s top concerns is the role the state Supreme Court has played in redistricting of legislative maps in the state.
“At a campaign appearance in Dane County, I made the statement that our current maps are rigged,” Protasiewicz told the group. “This led to an ethics complaint from the Republican Party, but I think that everyone’s vote should count in our state.”
In recent years, state legislative elections have produced a Republican-dominated Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly, despite the fact that about 60 percent of voters statewide have voted for Democrats.
Many allege that the maps currently in use to determine state legislative districts are highly gerrymandered. The Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition (WFMC) defines gerrymandering as “when a political party in power redraws the boundaries of voting districts to give their party a further advantage. It rigs the political game in favor of one-party rule, decreases competition, and muffles the voices of voters.”
The WFMC website goes on to explain that “in 2020, Governor Tony Evers established the People’s Maps Commission with the goal of establishing an open and transparent redistricting process for fair maps. Nine commissioners were chosen by a panel of retired circuit court judges.
“From October 2020 to September 2021, this nonpartisan commission held public hearings, gathered maps from Wisconsinites, and worked with mapping experts in open meetings, ensuring a fair and transparent redistricting process.
“In 2021, maps were submitted to the State Legislature from both the Governor and Republican Party leadership. Ultimately, the Republican-created maps were passed along party lines, and the Governor vetoed them.
“Lawsuits were filed as soon as U.S. Census numbers were released in August 2021. The court battle began in earnest following the Governor’s veto, and continued for months, traveling back and forth between the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to impose the legislature’s maps for the 2022 election cycle.”
According to the WFMC website, “since 2013, 55 counties in the state have passed board resolutions, and 32 counties have passed countywide referendums by overwhelming margins, calling on state legislators to pass legislation creating a nonpartisan redistricting process.”
Protasiewicz also stated that she believes strongly that it is the right of women to be able to make their own healthcare decisions. She said she anticipates that Wisconsin’s 1849 law prohibiting women from seeking an abortion even in cases of incest and rape will likely come before the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.
“I am also a huge advocate for public safety workers and making our communities safer,” Protasiewicz said. “As a Milwaukee County District Attorney, I prosecuted cases dealing with violent offenders that were a threat to public safety, and I understand what our law enforcement is encountering in their communities.”
One member of the audience asked if she supports giving the Wisconsin DNR the authority to require additional water quality monitoring for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to protect groundwater quality.
“I believe this issue is very likely to come in front of the Supreme Court, so I can’t comment on that directly,” Protasiewicz said. “However, I will say that I am a strong proponent of family farm businesses, clean water and conservation.”
Protasiewicz explained that she is an experienced and tough campaigner, who has dealt with the attack ads funded by large out-of-state campaign donors in the past. She said that this experience makes her the best candidate to take on the increasingly negative narratives of campaigns as have been seen in recent years.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell was interviewed by Frederica Freyberg on the PBS ‘Wisconsin Here & Now’ program on Friday, Feb. 3. On Friday, Feb. 10, Freyberg will interview Judge Jennifer Dorow on that show.
In that recent interview, Freyberg asked Mitchell to explain his judicial philosophy.
“My judicial philosophy is rooted in my understanding the U.S. Constitution as a living document that has grown and changed since it was first written and passed by the founding fathers of this nation,” Mitchell said. “You have to understand both its original intent, and also how it has been expanded over the years through constitutional amendments.”
Mitchell said that the constitutional amendments show that the U.S. Constitution has proved to be a flexible document that can grow and change with the times. He pointed out that the amendments have allowed changes such as women’s right to vote, emancipation of enslaved African Americans, and voting rights.
Freyberg asked Mitchell if he had learned from what many have called a racist smear campaign against the only African American to have served on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court – Justice Louis Butler Jr. Butler was appointed to his seat by Governor Jim Doyle in 2004, but was defeated by Michael Gableman in 2008.
If elected, Judge Mitchell would be one of only two African Americans to have served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“I have definitely learned from the experience Justice Butler had in that campaign, and I have been endorsed by him,” Everett Mitchell said. “We have to have the hard conversations in this campaign about the racist culture that surrounds us, and address the ‘super-predator myth’ about black men head on.”
Mitchell said that citizens need to focus on the real choices this election offers and not let the television ads scare or manipulate them. He said voters need to deal with the individual running, and listen to that person’s ideas.
“Even with the experience Mandela Barnes had last fall in his campaign for U.S. Senate, I have confidence in the people of Wisconsin – after all, we voted twice to elect Barack Obama as President of the United States,” Mitchell said. “This election needs to be about character, not color, and I know that the people of Wisconsin are better than that.”
During the six-month period ending Dec. 31, Everett Mitchell had raised $115,689 in campaign contributions, according to WisPolitics.com.
Kelly and Dorow
Voters should look for more coverage of the campaigns of former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow from Wisconsin Public Broadcasting Service, Wisconsin Public Radio and other credible news outlets.
In brief, according to WisPolitics.com, former Justice Daniel Kelly raised $312,359 in the six months ending Dec. 31, while Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow reported $306,919 in re-ceipts. Dorow’s fundraising all came in the month of December, while Kelly launched his bid to rejoin the court in September.
Daniel Kelly is an attorney and former judge who served as a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice from August 1, 2016 through August 1, 2020. He was appointed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to fill the unexpired term of Justice David Prosser.
Justice Kelly ran for a full term on the court when it came up for election in 2020, but was defeated by Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky.
In his private practice career, Attorney Daniel Kelly represented Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature in lawsuits over the 2010 legislative redistricting in Wisconsin.
According to an interview by Wisconsin PBS, Kelly is promoting his candidacy as a constitutional conservative.
"Constitutional conservatism is that commitment to the original public meaning of that document and faithfully following that in every single case that we decide. …So even in novel circumstances, we're always going to go back to the text of the law, whether it's the statute or it's the Constitution — and we're going to apply that meaning to resolve the case by. If we ever get in a position of importing our personal preferences or our personal politics, that's poison to the work of the court, and destroys the constitutional order. That's why it's so important to set that aside, set aside all those personal preferences and policies, and just decide cases based on the law."
According to WisPolitics.com, Kelly reported campaign donations of $20,000 each from Dick and Liz Uihlein, an Illinois business couple and GOP megadonors. He also received $20,000 from Stephen Kieffer, a Princeton retiree, who previously owned a sign company.
A group with ties to Dick Uihlein has pledged to spend millions to educate the public about Kelly in this spring’s race as he seeks to rejoin the court after losing his 2020 bid for a full 10-year term.
Judge Jenifer Dorow was appointed a Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge by Governor Scott Walker in 2011, and was elevated to chief judge by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2017. In 2022, she presided over the trial of the perpetrator of the Waukesha Christmas Parade attack, which received national news coverage.
Prior to her appointment as a judge, Dorow worked as a defense attorney from 2000 to 2004, and as an assistant district attorney at the Waukesha County District Attorney's office from 2004 to 2009. In 2010, Dorow established the private practice Huppertz & Dorow, S.C., of which firm she is still a partner.
In February 2022, Judge Dorow was selected as the presiding judge for the Waukesha Christmas Parade attack, a vehicular attack that left six dead and dozens injured. Defendant Darrell Brooks was ultimately found guilty of all 76 charges and sentenced to life without parole by Judge Dorow.On November 30, 2022, following the Waukesha Christmas Parade attack trial, Judge Dorow announced her candidacy for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.