It is a judicial election like no other in American history.
Thirty million dollars and counting has poured into the campaign for a swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, with TV ads swamping the airwaves. The candidates leave no illusions that they would be neutral on the court. And the race will decide not only the future of abortion rights in Wisconsin, but the battleground state’s political direction.
Yet in other ways, the contest resembles an obscure local election: There are no bus tours or big rallies. Out-of-state political stars are nowhere to be found. Retail politicking is limited to small gatherings at bars that are not advertised to the public in advance.
The result is a campaign — officially nonpartisan but positively awash in partisanship — that swirls together the old and new ways of judicial politics in America, and that offers a preview of what might be to come. It is the latest evidence, after the contentious recent confirmation battles and pitched decisions on the U.S. Supreme Court, that judges increasingly viewed as political are starting to openly act political as well.
Officials in both parties believe the Wisconsin race could lead to a sea change in how State Supreme Court races are contested in the 21 other states where high court justices are elected, injecting never-before-seen amounts of money, politicization and voter interest.