Voters give Wisconsin Supreme Court a liberal majority in election ahead of anticipated challenge to state abortion ban

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News

(OSV News) — Milwaukee Judge Janet Protasiewicz was elected April 4 to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, giving the state’s top court a liberal majority before it is likely to consider the state’s abortion ban.

The race was the most expensive contest for a state Supreme Court seat in U.S. history.

Protasiewicz, backed by Democrats, defeated Republican-backed Dan Kelly, a former justice who also lost a similar bid in 2020, by an 11-point margin: 55.5% to 44.5%. Protasiewicz’s victory gives the seven-member court a liberal majority for at least two years, starting in August, until Wisconsin’s next state Supreme Court election.

Judicial candidates in Wisconsin do not run with formal party labels, but are often supported by a party. Protasiewicz and her supporters made the race largely a referendum on abortion.

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz celebrates after the race was called for her during her election night watch party in Milwaukee April 4, 2023. Her win flips control of the court to a liberal majority ahead of a case over the state’s abortion ban. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

Wisconsin abortion providers stopped offering the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The Dobbs ruling reactivated a previously dormant 19th-century abortion law banning the practice unless necessary to save the life of the mother. That law is currently facing a legal challenge, and the case is expected to eventually reach the state Supreme Court.

Women Speak Out PAC, a partner of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, committed $2 million in opposition to Protasiewicz’s candidacy in the general election. Kelsey Pritchard, SBA’s state public affairs director, called the results “disappointing” in a statement.

“Janet Protasiewicz’s coffers were filled by pro-abortion advocates, allowing her to dominate the airwaves and fuel her campaign of deception and fear,” Pritchard said. “The goal of the left is clear: strike down Wisconsin’s pro-life limits and impose court-ordered abortion on demand without limit. Like the rest of America, Wisconsin voters support reasonable limits on abortion. The far Left does not.”

Advocates of legal abortion declared the results are another electoral victory for their cause. In a statement, Melinda Brennan, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, praised the results, arguing that “judging by Wisconsin’s impressive level of turnout for a state Supreme Court race, it’s safe to say the people of Wisconsin got the message and responded accordingly.”

“We also know that our state’s draconian 1849 abortion ban in many ways came to define this race, and by showing up in the numbers they did, we believe that voters made a powerful statement that shows they want their reproductive freedom back,” Brennan said.

However, Pritchard said the results make clear “abortion is a top issue and it isn’t going away.”

“That’s why it’s imperative that pro-life candidates are clear about where they stand on what limits they support and contrast those limits with the extremism of the other side,” Pritchard said.

“This is how Marco Rubio, J.D. Vance, Brian Kemp, and many others who achieved victory in the 2022 midterm elections won. The issue of abortion is not going away,” she said, “but Republican candidates who ignore the issue will if they don’t speak directly to Americans with clarity and drive a contrast. Allowing their Democratic opponents and the radical pro-abortion lobby to control the narrative will never win them elections.”

Kelly, whose pro-life views were well-known in Wisconsin, pushed back on campaign ads claiming he would overturn the state’s 1849 law banning most abortions, saying he would not indicate how he would decide a potential case. In its fact sheet on Kelly, Wisconsin Right to Life, noted “judicial candidates cannot tell us how they would rule on issues brought before their court,” adding, “Dan Kelly has expressed his commitment to upholding the constitution without interference from his personal beliefs.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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