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The Milwaukee County judge would ensure a progressive Supreme Court for the first time in 15 years if she were to defeat conservative former Justice Dan Kelly on April 4.

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz does not hesitate to explain the importance of voter turnout in her campaign for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“I tell people that absolutely everything they care about is on the line with this election and I mean everything,” Protasiewicz told UpNorthNews in a March 16 radio interview. She was also a guest on UpNorthNews Radio on February 13. (The campaign of former Justice Dan Kelly did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Here are selected and combined excerpts of how Judge Protasiewicz responded to questions in both interviews.

UpNorthNews Radio Host Pat Kreitlow: There is national interest in this race —as it will determine whether progressives control the court for the first time in 15 years. Even so, turnout will likely not be near the level of a presidential or gubernatorial election. What are you telling voters about the importance of showing up on April 4?

Janet Protasiewicz: Besides [a] woman’s right to choose, we have our gerrymandered maps. We have this potential of the 2024 presidential election coming into our Wisconsin Supreme Court chamber. We’ve got LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, the environment—everything when it comes to those substantive, meaty issues. But almost bigger than that is this overall arching concern that people want a fair, independent Supreme Court. People are tired of the extremism. They want change.”

As of this interview, your opponent, conservative former Justice Dan Kelly, has not purchased any television advertising. Instead, he refers to the “cavalry” of outside groups spending significant sums to advertise on his behalf. What are your thoughts on his campaign so far?

My opponent’s an election denier. My opponent is an extremist. I can’t even call him a conservative. Even after he announced his run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, he was still being paid by the Republican Party. So, you know, you talk about somebody who’s extreme, who’s on their payroll. And I think people are just tired of it. People want you know, people want our state to be a fair, independent, impartial state.

Kelly has criticized your comments about values, even though he hasn’t been shy to express his own positions on broad issues. Why do you bring up abortion rights and the statewide impact of the Dobbs decision that repealed Roe v. Wade?

I think the public should know and is entitled to know what a candidate’s personal values are. And my personal value is very clear that women’s reproductive health rights are theirs and they should be able to make those decisions without the government interfering. It’s all the issues that women care about, but it’s also about physician attrition. It’s also the fact that young people don’t want to move to Wisconsin and start a family, because if there’s an issue, they can’t have the medical care that they need. The issue is so much more layered than what people just think it is and how people consider it.

Dan Kelly was on record before the Dobbs decision, suggesting that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided long before the US Supreme Court overturned it. He’s also accepted the endorsement of groups seeking to end all abortions. So I think we know what [he] would do in the event of cases that have to do with the 1849 ban. I am 100% certain that that ban will stay in place if [he] prevails in April.”

What is it about gerrymandered political maps that motivated you to run for Supreme Court?

I have to be careful with how I structure responses given that I’m running for a judicial post. But I tell people about my values in regard to gerrymandering and our maps issue. And I say that everybody deserves to be represented and represented in a fair way, where their votes are meaningful. Wisconsin is a battleground state. You look at the state of Wisconsin and you look at how close the statewide races are, and then you look at our maps and have to recognize that something is wrong—and that our Supreme Court allowed that.

Let’s back up for a moment because there are still voters who are just starting to get plugged into this race. What do you tell them about your biography and your reasons for running for the state Supreme Court?

I was born and raised on the south side of Milwaukee. Wisconsinite my entire life. Worked my way through UW- Milwaukee. I did some waitressing. Worked for the League of Women Voters. Wrote some music reviews. Then I went to law school at Marquette. And I came out of law school with those values that were instilled from my family: you work hard, you get a good education, you give back to your community. That’s what I wanted to do. 

I was really honored to be appointed an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County. I did that work for just over a quarter of a century, handling really complicated criminal litigation issues across the board. I also worked at Children’s Court—Milwaukee County has a children’s court separate from the downtown division—where we worked with children who are abused or neglected and need services, children who are in homes that are inappropriate for them. We’re working very, very hard to get them permanency, to have them adopted by fit, loving adoptive parents. 

[I was] doing my best to protect families, protect victims, keep our community safe, and then I decided I was tired of going into court and asking a judge to do what I thought was fair and appropriate and I wanted to start making those decisions. So I ran for the circuit court in Milwaukee, and it has been an honor to serve in that position since 2014.

Each state sets its own rules on how state Supreme Court justices are chosen. Some do elections, some do appointments, and some have a hybrid. Given the cost and politics surrounding this election, what are your feelings on direct election of justices?

I’ve had people say to me, ‘Don’t you think that rather than having to campaign across the state for a year, we should appoint our judges?’ And I say ‘I don’t think so,’ because you wouldn’t have the insight that you have by going and meeting people and talking to them about their concerns and issues. I think that [the decisions on appointments] would be [based on a] much more esoteric, you know, sets of facts and legal theories. And it’s just so interesting to meet people and hear about what they care about and how the decisions that a court makes impact their lives.