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 on the line.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, 60, defeated former Justice Dan Kelly, who previously worked for Republicans and had support from the state’s leading anti-abortion groups.
The victory speaks to the importance of abortion as an issue for Democrats in a key swing state, with turnout the highest ever for a Wisconsin Supreme Court race that didn’t share the ballot with a presidential primary.
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At her victory party, the other three liberal justices on the court joined Protasiewicz on the stage and raised their arms in celebration.
Protasiewicz tried to downplay the importance of abortion as an issue in her victory, even though she and her allies, including an array of abortion rights groups including Planned Parenthood, made it the focus of much of her advertising and messaging to voters.
“It was really about saving our democracy, getting away from extremism and having a fair and impartial court where everybody gets a fair shot in the courtroom,” Protasiewicz told The Associated Press after her win. “That’s what it was all about.”
The new court controlled 4-3 by liberals is expected to decide a pending lawsuit challenging the state’s 1849 law banning abortion enacted a year after statehood. Protasiewicz said during the campaign that she supports abortion rights but stopped short of saying how she would rule on the lawsuit. She had called Kelly an “extreme partisan” who would vote to uphold the ban.
It’s not just abortion that was a huge win for Democrats. Protasiewicz’s win is likely to impact the future of Republican-drawn legislative maps, ballot harvesting, and years of other GOP policies. It will also ensure that liberals will have the majority leading up to the 2024 presidential election and immediately after.
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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 current court, under a 4-3 conservative majority, came within one vote of overturning President Joe Biden’s win in the state in 2020, and both major parties are preparing for another close race in 2024.
Protasiewicz will serve a 10-year term starting in August replacing retiring conservative Justice Pat Roggensack.
The Associated Press contributed to this article