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Liberal wins Wisconsin Supreme Court seat in pivotal race

(NewsNation) — A Democratic-backed Milwaukee judge won the high stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court race Tuesday, ensuring liberals will take over majority control of the court for the first time in 15 years with the fate of the state’s abortion ban pending.

Janet Protasiewicz defeated Republican-backed Dan Kelly in the high-stakes contest.

“I feel great. I could not feel better,” Protasiewicz told The Associated Press after her win. “I am surprised of the results and the magnitude of the victory here. We are absolutely delighted and thrilled.”

The new court controlled 4-3 by liberals is expected to decide a pending lawsuit challenging the state’s 1849 law banning abortion. Protasiewicz made the issue a focus of her campaign and won the support of Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups.

The court came within one vote of overturning President Joe Biden’s narrow win in 2020, and both sides expect another close race in 2024.

The court will now be controlled by Democratic-backed justices for at least the next two years, including the run-up and aftermath of the 2024 presidential election. Four of the past six presidential elections in Wisconsin have been decided by less than a percentage point and Trump turned to the courts in 2020 in his unsuccessful push to overturn his roughly 21,000-vote loss in the state.

The court’s previous conservative majority had allowed it to uphold an array of Republican priorities, including banning absentee ballot drop boxes last year and affirming the 2011 law all-but ending collective bargaining for most public workers.

“The policy direction of Wisconsin is going to be determined in large part by this Supreme Court race,” Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, said as polls opened Tuesday. “Everything from abortion to disputes over the 2024 presidential election are going to land in the lap of this court. And the winner will be the deciding justice on these issues.”

Abortion was the central issue of the race. Wisconsin’s abortion ban was written in 1849 and only includes a vague exception for the life of the mother. The Republican-controlled legislature has floated the idea of passing an updated law that adds exceptions for rape and incest. But the state’s Democratic governor has said he will veto any legislation that continues to ban abortion.

At the same time, the state’s Democratic attorney general filed a lawsuit saying the 1849 law was effectively overturned when the legislature passed additional laws regulating abortion during the Roe v. Wade years, a case which will eventually make its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The election could also determine the future makeup of the Wisconsin legislature, which is currently majority Republican. Legal challenges to district maps that favor conservatives could emerge if the court moves to a liberal majority.

Wisconsin justices serve 10-year terms. The potential for a flip for the court led to heavy spending, including money from out of state. The amount will double, and likely triple or more, the previous high of $15.4 million spent on a state court race in Illinois in 2004.

Kelly was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, in 2016. He served four years before being defeated in 2020 on the same ballot as the Democratic presidential primary. Kelly was endorsed by then-President Donald Trump that year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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