By Milwaukee Courier Staff
Wisconsin’s April 4th Supreme Court election is a race that could have decades-long ramifications for our state. Justices on the Supreme Court issue rulings that touch every part of life in Wisconsin, and because these justices are elected to ten year terms, chances to change the direction of the court and make true progress for Wisconsin are few and far between.
For more than a decade, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been controlled by so-called “conservative” justices by a 4-3 margin. This means that in April, whoever is elected will determine the balance of the Supreme Court. Republican-backed candidate Dan Kelly would continue the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, while the progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz would rebalance the court and open the door to a new future for Wisconsin.
Critically, the April 4th election represents our only chance to change the direction of the Supreme Court before the 2024 presidential election — and that’s huge.
In 2020, Donald Trump’s dangerous lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters was rejected by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on a narrow 4-3 vote. With Trump already running again, we can’t give far-right judges another chance to overturn a free and fair election.
Beyond coming within one vote of ruling an entire election invalid, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has also made it harder for folks individually to cast ballots.
Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s right-wing majority took the radical step of ruling nearly all absentee ballot drop boxes illegal. This was despite the boxes having been legal in Wisconsin for years, located in red and blue counties alike, and endorsed as one of several “convenient, secure, and expressly authorized absentee-ballot-return methods” by Republicans leaders, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in a 2020 letter to election officials in Madison.
And the Supreme Court didn’t stop with its ruling on absentee ballot drop boxes.
In the same decision that banned nearly all the drop boxes, the Supreme Court imposed new restrictions on how voters may return absentee ballots, creating uncertainty over whether family members or caregivers may assist voters in mailing absentee ballots. This in turn prompted a federal voting rights lawsuit from disabled voters who argued the Supreme Court’s restrictions on returning absentee ballots made it impossible for them to vote.
Finally, there’s the question of redistricting and equal representation in Wisconsin.
Back in 2011, Republicans used their total control of Wisconsin’s government to impose one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the country. In 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s right-wing majority broke decades of precedent to intervene in redistricting. While previously cases involving redistricting were handled in federal court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court instead invented a new legal doctrine to force the drawing of maps that made as few changes to the 2011 maps as possible. This effectively locked in the 2011 gerrymander.
We all want to live in a state where voters pick their politicians—not the other way around. But thanks to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Republican politicians get to pick their voters. In 2018, Republicans won a staggering 63 of 99 seats in the State Assembly, all while Governor Tony Evers beat Scott Walker and Tammy Baldwin won reelection by 11 points. Unless we can change the direction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, this pattern could repeat itself, perhaps for decades.
On April 4th, voters will choose between more of the same—or a new direction for Wisconsin. The impact will be far-reaching, and could determine the future of our democracy itself.