Wisconsin voters flipped the state’s Supreme Court to the left on Tuesday, electing liberal judicial candidate Janet Protasiewicz in a major victory for Democrats that could have national implications for the 2024 presidential election.
Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge who faced scrutiny in the race for giving light sentences to violent criminals defeated conservative candidate and former State Supreme Court justice Dan Kelly.
While the election is likely to be viewed as a victory for Democrats on abortion messaging, it is also a testament to the party’s fundraising. Protasiewicz and allies reportedly outspent Kelly by $5 million in the high-stakes election, giving liberals a 4-3 majority on the court for the first time in over a decade.
The $45 million Supreme Court battle smashed U.S. spending records for state-level judicial races, with the biggest contributions pouring in from prominent Democratic donors, including billionaire George Soros and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
While the election was officially non-partisan, it drew interest from national party leaders and funders because of Wisconsin’s status as a swing-state, where contested statewide and presidential elections could hinge on a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court.
The court is also expected to take up cases with wide-ranging political consequences, including redrawing the state’s legislative maps to give Democrats an edge in congressional races, ruling on Wisconsin’s abortion ban, and hearing challenges to the state’s voter ID law.
Although judicial candidates typically avoid taking overt political positions, Protasiewicz was vocal about her objections to the state’s abortion ban—which she called “draconian”—and made the issue a centerpiece of her campaign and TV ads.
“If my opponent is elected, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that [Wisconsin’s] 1849 abortion ban will stay on the books,” said Protasiewicz during a debate last month.
Protasiewicz also faced scrutiny on crime issues. Kelly and allied groups attacked Protasiewicz’s light sentencing record in TV ads, dubbing her “No Jail Janet” and highlighting numerous violent criminals who she let off with low or no jail time while serving on the Milwaukee Circuit Court.
In one case, she gave a six-month jail sentence to a repeat domestic abuser who fractured his estranged wife’s face and later shot the victim after he was released. She also gave probation to a child sex offender who went on to kill a teenage girl, and she let off another predator who filmed his sexual assault of a 13-year-old and posted it on Facebook.
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