What happened in Wisconsin? | WORLD
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What happened in Wisconsin?

Energized liberals gave a pro-abortion Supreme Court candidate a big win

Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz, center, celebrates her victory on April 4 in Milwaukee, Wis. Mike De Sisti /Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via Associated Press

What happened in Wisconsin?
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Add Wisconsin to Michigan, Montana, Kentucky, and Kansas as the states where pro-lifers have suffered significant setbacks at the ballot box in the past year. Consider this: “Reproductive freedom and access to a safe and legal abortion is the central defining issue in this race.” That’s how the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin described the contest for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

On Tuesday of this week, after an intense battle, his preferred candidate beat the more conservative candidate for the seat, and it wasn’t even close. Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge who received millions of dollars from the Democratic Party, won with a commanding 55.5 percent of the vote, besting former justice Daniel Kelly in his comeback bid to rejoin the court.

Of course, the election was not a ballot referendum on abortion—the ballot did not ask, “Do you or do you not support Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion statute, which criminalizes feticide (i.e., the murder of an unborn child)?” It was an election for a seat on the state’s highest court. More specifically, it was an election for a ten-year term as one of seven justices on the state supreme court. In that period, the justice will rule on hundreds of cases. And it is an important judgeship, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court currently has four conservative-leaning justices and three liberals. A conservative justice announced her retirement, and created the open seat.

That there are “conservative-leaning justices” and “liberal-leaning justices” is simply to say that different lawyers approach the job of judging differently, and those differences often align with broad categories of jurisprudential and philosophical approaches. And usually the job of voters in these elections is to discern which candidate reflects their preferred approach to judging, which means interpreting the smoke signals that judicial candidates send. One pledges to be “tough on crime,” the other pledges to “protect our environment.” One promises to “stop judicial activism,” while the other says her judicial heroine is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One candidate’s literature features pictures of him wearing blaze orange and carrying a hunting rifle, while the other wears bright blue and stands with union workers. That is usually how these races are run.

Liberals turned out in record numbers to vote their outrage against Dobbs, and swing suburbanites swung hard for the pro-abortion candidate.

Not this race. Judge Protasiewicz blew past every previous line with straightforward statements of her “values,” with lines like, “I can’t tell you how I’ll rule in any case, but … I value a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive health care decisions.” Or “I think you all know what my value is. People should have a right to choose. That is my value. And I think that that is paramount. And I certainly expect that we will be looking at that issue in the near future.” In other words, while the conservative candidate campaigned in the traditional style, talking about “the rule of law” and warning against “judicial activism,” his opponent went as far as (or farther than) the code of judicial ethics allows to telegraph her views on abortion. And her allies on the outside put millions more dollars into ads that put abortion front and center.

It worked. In Dane County, the second largest in the state, home to the University of Wisconsin and multitudes of high-tech, high-income knowledge workers, Kelly did not even clear 20 percent of the vote. In Ozaukee County, a collection of bedroom communities for upper-middle class professionals, Kelly got just 51 percent of the vote, whereas the last conservative to win a Supreme Court race got 63 percent there in 2019.

In other words, liberals turned out in record numbers to vote their outrage against Dobbs, and swing suburbanites swung hard for the pro-abortion candidate. In the end, the race was successfully defined by one side as a referendum on that one issue. For some, the other looming issue in the race was the determination of the state’s congressional districts.

Just six months ago, in November 2022, Wisconsin’s governor’s race was a three-point split, 51-48, with victory to the Democrat, and the U.S. Senate race even closer, 50-49, with victory for the Republican. On Tuesday, the liberal won by an eleven-point blowout in a race defined by abortion. November’s results prove Wisconsin’s citizenry is evenly split on politics. Tuesday’s results show that only holds true when citizens vote with equal levels of enthusiasm. This judicial election in Wisconsin should set off alarms throughout the pro-life movement.

Daniel R. Suhr

Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney who fights for freedom in courts across America. He has worked as a senior adviser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as a law clerk for Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and at the national headquarters of the Federalist Society. He is a member of Christ Church Mequon. He is an Eagle Scout, and he loves spending time with his wife Anna and their two sons, Will and Graham, at their home near Milwaukee.

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