Patrick Marley for WaPo:
Liberal groups, long accustomed to seeing the court as hostile terrain, quickly maneuvered for potential victories on a string of major issues. They filed lawsuits to try to redraw the state’s legislative districts, which heavily favor Republicans. And the Democratic attorney general sought to speed up a case challenging a 19th-century law that has kept doctors from providing abortions in Wisconsin.
“It’s an absolute seismic shift in Wisconsin policy and politics,” said C.J. Szafir, the chief executive of the conservative, Wisconsin-based Institute for Reforming Government. “We’re about to usher in a very progressive state Supreme Court, the likes that we have not seen in quite some time. And it’s really going to change how everything operates.”
The turnaround on the Wisconsin court is the result of an April election that became the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history, with campaigns and interest groups spending more than $50 million.
At stake in that race, with the retirement of a conservative justice who held a decisive vote on a 4-3 court, was the question of who would make crucial rulings in a swing state that could decide the winner of the 2024 presidential election. Conservatives had controlled the court for 15 years, during which they upheld a voter ID law, approved limits on collective bargaining for public workers, banned absentee ballot drop boxes and shut down a wide-ranging campaign finance investigation into Republicans.
Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, won by 11 points and flipped control of the court to give liberals a 4-3 majority when she was sworn in on Aug. 1. Protasiewicz, who declined interview requests, spoke openly during her campaign about her support for abortion rights and opposition to what she called “rigged” maps that have given Republicans large majorities in the state legislature. Political strategists said her blunt style helped her win even as court observers fretted that she was making judges look like politicians instead of evenhanded referees.