Jun 8, 2023  |  
 | Remer,MN
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Barnini Chakraborty, Senior Investigations Reporter

NextImg:Wisconsin Supreme Court majority hangs in balance as voters head to polls

Wisconsin voters won't have to wait until 2024 to cast their ballots in a high-stakes election.

On Tuesday, four candidates are squaring off in a primary that could influence everything from abortion rights to redistricting in the state.

The race, for a seat on Wisconsin's Supreme Court, is expected to be one of the most expensive high court contests in U.S. history. But it's also being billed as one of the most important of 2023, with the winner determining whether conservatives or liberals hold a 4-3 majority in the battleground state heading into the 2024 presidential election.


"The stakes are huge," Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Washington Examiner. "The court has been deciding all of the important issues in Wisconsin over the last several years."

If conservatives win the seat, they will retain a majority on the court until at least 2026. Liberals are seeking the seat to help them overturn a state law that prohibits abortion nearly across the board. They also want to put an end to the aggressive redrawing of congressional maps by Republicans.

Tuesday's race will pit liberal candidates Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell, two county judges from Milwaukee and Madison, against one another. The conservative candidates include Daniel Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, and Jennifer Dorow, a Waukesha County judge. The two candidates with the highest vote totals will meet in the general election in April. It is possible that both conservative judges or both liberal-leaning judges will make it to the general election, though it is unlikely. Wisconsin's primary and general elections for Supreme Court seats are technically nonpartisan.

Retiring Justice Patience Roggensack has endorsed Dorow for the job. Dorow has also picked up endorsements from law enforcement officials as well as the Waukesha County Police Chiefs Association and Milwaukee Police Association.

Dorow began her legal career as a prosecutor and a defense attorney before spending the last decade on the bench. She made headlines in 2022 after sentencing Darrell Brooks, a man who killed six people after driving his car into a Waukesha Christmas parade in 2021, to life in prison. She earned praise for dealing with Brooks, who chose to defend himself and repeatedly caused a ruckus during his trial.

In January, Dorow's name was once again in the headlines after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that two friends of an 18-year-old college student who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021 claimed Dorow's son, Michael, sold him prescription pills. The family of the teenager has complained about how slow the investigation into the case has been.

Dorow said on social media that she understood that "by putting my name on the ballot I invited scrutiny about myself and my actions."

"My children aren't running for office and they, and every candidate's kids, should be off limits," she said. "We need to restore a sense of decency in our elections."

Dorow has raised about $720,000 since announcing her candidacy in November.

Tuesday's race has also seen a massive amount of money flowing into the campaign coffers of Protasiewicz, who has raised $1.9 million, about a half-million more than the other three candidates combined, according to campaign finance reports.


In this past week, she has raised $235,000, made up mostly of large donations, Door County Pulse reported. Of the $235,000, a majority, $206,000, came from out-of-state donors. Mitchell, her Democratic rival, has raised $221,000 since throwing his name into the race last year.

Kelly has the backing of GOP donor Richard Uihlein through a group he funds, Fair Courts America, which has pledged to spend millions of dollars to "help educate" voters about Kelly's conservative record.

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