For the first time in 15 years, liberals are taking over the Wisconsin Supreme Court -->
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    For the first time in 15 years, liberals are taking over the Wisconsin Supreme Court

    Wednesday, April 5, 2023, April 05, 2023 EDT Last Updated 2023-04-05T07:20:29Z

    Democrats scored a huge victory in Wisconsin, winning an open state Supreme Court seat and giving control of the court to liberals for the first time in 15 years. 

    Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz has won a heated race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, defeating former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, according to a race call by The Associated Press. The campaign spending broke the previous statewide record for a state Supreme Court election. 

    Judge Janet Protasiewicz delivers her victory speech after becoming a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday, April , 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis. 

    Protasiewicz's victory comes at a crucial time for the court and  the Democratic voters who nominated him. The justices will almost certainly hear a challenge to Wisconsin's pre-Civil War abortion ban, and with a liberal majority, they are likely to consider a case that could overturn Wisconsin's Republican-drawn legislative maps. 

    Besides the windfall, the win would also secure a liberal majority  ahead of next year's presidential election, when Wisconsin -- a perennial swing state -- is expected to again play a key role in the race for the White House. If an election lawsuit is filed in state court, Protasiewicz is one of  seven judges who will have the final say.  

     As Protasiewicz approached the stage to deliver his victory speech, the crowd at the Saint Kate Hotel in downtown Milwaukee erupted and some of his closest supporters danced on stage. 

    Towards the end of the speech, Protasiewicz was joined on stage by  three liberal justices, whom he will soon join on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  "Our country is taking a step toward a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms are protected," Protasiewicz said. "And while there is still work to be done, tonight we celebrate this historic victory that has obviously given hope to so many of us. 

    High hopes for Democrats 

    If the court were to draw the maps and give Democrats a better chance to win legislative races, they hope to eventually shift the state's political trajectory to the left. The court could also potentially redraw Wisconsin's congressional map, where Republicans currently hold six  of the eight U.S. House seats in a 50-50 state. 

    Born and raised on Milwaukee's south side, Protasiewicz spent 25 years as a prosecutor in the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office and most of the last decade as a judge.  While Protasiewicz never promised to take a position one way or another on pending Supreme Court cases, Protasiewicz was particularly outspoken about his politics during the campaign. As for abortion, she said she believes women have the right to choose. On redistricting, he called the  legislative maps drawn by state Republicans "abusive." 

     His campaign also relied more than ever on financial support from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, so  Protasiewicz promised to recuse himself from cases involving the state party when he took office. 


    Kelly loss and  money 

    In a concession speech to supporters in Green Lake, Wis., Kelly had harsh words for Protasiewicz, saying he had "devalued the judiciary" with his campaign.  

    "I respect the decision that the people of Wisconsin  made," Kelly said. "But I don't think it's going to end well." 

    Kelly played down his political views during the campaign,  but  brought a long Republican resume to the race. He was originally appointed to the court by former Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2016. Most of Kelly's career has been spent as an attorney. In 2012, he defended Wisconsin Republican-drafted legislative maps in federal court. In 2020, after Kelly lost his first election, he returned to private practice, where his clients included both the state and  Republican parties. 

    Among Kelly's biggest donors were Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and a group called Fair Courts America,  funded by GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein. Together, they spent more than $10 million on ads criticizing Protasiewicz's conviction as a Milwaukee County judge. 

    Even as money poured in  from Kelly and conservative groups  in  the final weeks of the campaign, Protasiewicz was able to fend off an outrageous fundraising campaign, raising more than $1 million this year. Most of that money came in transfers from the state Democratic Party.  The race broke the previous state spending record  in a state Supreme Court race. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the old record of $15.2 million was set in a 200 race for the Illinois Supreme Court. Nearly $29 million was spent on political ads in  the Wisconsin race, according to the center's tracking. According to WisPolitics, another Wisconsin political news site, total spending in the race exceeded $5 million. 

    Protasiewicz takes office in August. 1 with a term extending to 2033. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Conservatives' next chance  to repeal the law is in 2025.

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