“2023’s Biggest, Most Unusual Race Centers on Abortion and Democracy”


In 10 weeks, Wisconsin will hold an election that carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in America in 2023.

The April race, for a seat on the state’s evenly divided Supreme Court, will determine the fate of abortion rights, gerrymandered legislative maps and the governor’s appointment powers — and perhaps even the state’s 2024 presidential election if the outcome is again contested.

The court’s importance stems from Wisconsin’s deadlocked state government. Since 2019, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has faced off against a Republican-controlled Legislature with near-supermajority control thanks to one of the country’s most aggressive partisan gerrymanders, itself approved last year by the Wisconsin justices.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has been left to arbitrate a host of thorny issues in the state, and has nearly always sided with Republicans. But now, with a conservative justice retiring, liberals hope to reverse many of those decisions by taking control of the open seat and its 10-year term….

While past state judicial candidates and United States Supreme Court nominees have largely avoided weighing in on specific issues — instead pitching opaque judicial philosophies and counting on voters or senators to read between the lines — some of the Wisconsin contenders are making all but explicit arguments for how they would rule on topics that are likely to come before the court.

Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal county judge from a Milwaukee suburb, is leading the charge on both fund-raising and the new approach to judicial campaigning, shedding the pretense that she does not hold firm positions on the hottest-button issues. She turned heads this month at a candidate forum when she declared the state’s gerrymandered legislative maps “rigged.”…

The conservative candidates, Justice Kelly and Judge Dorow, have been less forthright about how they would rule, but both have left ample clues for voters. Justice Kelly last year participated in an “election integrity” tour sponsored by the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Judge Dorow, who was so well known in the Milwaukee suburbs that people dressed as her last Halloween, said in a 2016 legal questionnaire that the worst U.S. Supreme Court decision was Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 decision that struck down anti-sodomy laws.

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