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Fighting for life at state supreme courts


WORLD Radio - Fighting for life at state supreme courts

Wisconsin voters head to the polls to choose who will replace a retiring conservative justice

Protesters gathered outside the state Capitol building in Madison, Wis., Friday, June 24, 2022 evening in advance of a protest Associated Press Photo/Harm Venhuizen

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Up next, the fight for life moves to state supreme court elections.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, the battle between pro-life and pro-abortion is happening at the state level.

In 14 states, voters choose State Supreme Court justices. And Wisconsin is one of those states.

Today, Wisconsin voters are going to the polls to choose two candidates to run for the seat of a conservative justice who’s retiring.

Our life beat reporter Leah Savas interviewed the candidates in this election. Here’s what she told us about it.

LEAH SAVAS, REPORTER: Yeah, so a big thing to keep in mind about this current election is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court currently has a four to three conservative majority. The Justice who is leaving who is retiring is one of the four conservatives. So essentially, whoever takes her seat will decide whether or not the court tips conservative still, or if it will tip liberal. And that’s a big deal in Wisconsin right now. They have a split government, meaning that Republicans have a majority in the legislature, but the governor is a Democrat. So it’s really hard for either party to pass priority legislation right now. So it means a lot of these essential questions, political questions, will be coming down to the state Supreme Court. And one of those big questions has to do with abortion. The state currently has an old law from 1849 that is protecting babies from abortion starting at conception. So that went into effect last summer after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision from the US Supreme Court. And so that essentially shut down abortion facilities in the state. So now there’s a lawsuit challenging that law. And they expect it to make it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually. And so it’s basically going to be the Wisconsin Supreme Court that gets to decide if this law stands or falls.

BROWN: Leah, tell us a bit about the candidates who are running.

SAVAS: Yeah, so there are four candidates in the race. Two of them are technically conservative, and two of them are technically liberal, although, as we talked about, this is also in name a nonpartisan election, but it’s become really clear in the race what their stances are on judicial philosophy. And for some of them, it’s very clear what their political stances are on issues like abortion. So the two conservative candidates are former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, Daniel Kelly, and then Judge Jennifer Dorow. And basically, they’ve made it clear that they’re going to take state law at face value in any court rulings that they might issue on the Supreme Court. The other two candidates are Judge Everett Mitchell—he’s also a Baptist pastor—and Judge Janet Protasiewicz. They’ve made it pretty clear that they would see part of their role on the court as an opportunity to change things that need to be fixed in the state. And on the abortion issue, specifically, the two conservative justices, they have not openly stated their position on abortion. But these other two, the liberal ones have clearly said that they support abortion access.

EICHER: One of the liberals in the mix here is Judge Mitchell—the Baptist minister—rooting his view in what he calls “social justice.” And in this clip from a candidate forum last month, you really hear his expansive view of the role of a judge.

MITCHELL: The law not only is about what's in books and statutes and case law, but the law is what looks at what it looks like in the lives of people who have the impact, to change something that is wrong before you. And that is what a judge is supposed to do also. Not only just follow patterns and trends of what everybody else says, but ask the critical questions of ‘why are we doing this?’ and ‘can we change it?’

SAVAS: The two conservative candidates, so that’s Justice Kelly and Judge Dorow, they were also very open about their faith, but you could see that their understanding of Christianity is more grounded in the full counsel of God's Word. So this is how justice Kelly defined the gospel, he described it as the good news that all men are sinners, we’re all fallen. And we need a restored relationship with God. And God made a way for that through Jesus Christ. So basically, he didn’t just see it as love God, love your neighbor, which was more of how judge Mitchell described it, but he saw it more in how we would understand it from a complete biblical context.

But he also made it clear that his personal beliefs would not affect how he rules in cases. The clue though, for pro life voters is that he does believe in interpreting the text of a law to solve court cases. And a lot of groups supporting him say he has a proven track record of doing this when he was on the Supreme Court before. So Judge Dorow, by contrast, she doesn’t have this same track record. She was never on the Supreme Court in the past. But she says she has that same philosophy, and in our interview, she used the example of how she reads scripture to explain her interpretation of the law. And in our interview, she used the example of how she reads scripture to explain her interpretation of the law. And the idea there was she considers what the context was when it was originally written. And that's how she makes those decisions about what scripture has to say, and also about what a law has to say.

BROWN: Leah Savas is WORLD’s Life Beat reporter. If you visit our website and go to today’s transcript, we’ll have a link to her article on that Wisconsin race that’s going on today.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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