Record Voter Turnout Spurs Protasiewicz To Victory In Supreme Court Race


Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz won election to the court on April 4, 2023. (Court chamber photo via Shutterstock. Protasiewicz photo via Facebook.)

By Pat Kreitlow
April 5, 2023

Conservatives lose control of the court after15 years, but a GOP win in one special election could lead to the Legislature attempting to impeach Gov. Tony Evers and other officials.

In the end, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election not only broke the records for spending but for voter turnout records as well—and the resulting victory by Milwaukee Co. Judge Janet Protasiewicz means 15 years of conservative control of the state’s highest court will come to an end.

Protasiewicz handily defeated conservative former Justice Dan Kelly, with a 55-45 margin with more than 95 percent of the votes counted.

Kelly, a Scott Walker appointee to the court, lost in 2020 to Jill Karofsky in his first attempt to gain a full 10-year term, by the same 10-point margin as Tuesday. Karofsky and Protasiewicz will make up a majority progressive block that also includes Rebecca Dallet (elected in 2018) and Ann Walsh Bradley, who in 2025 will be the next justice up for reelection. 

Women’s healthcare rights played a significant role in the race, the first state Supreme Court election since national abortion rights were repealed by the US Supreme Court nearly a year ago. Protasiewicz, who launched her campaign a month before the Dobbs decision, made the issue central to her campaign, in line with her opening announcement that blamed “radical right-wing extremists” for attacking “our most closely-held constitutional rights” when it came to voting rights, LGBTQ matters, and the pre-Dobbs potential for abortion restrictions. 

Senate Republicans Attain Supermajority

Gerrymandering—the rigging of political maps—was another key issue in the Supreme Court race, and Republicans are about to demonstrate why after winning a supermajority in the state Senate on Tuesday with Dan Knodl’s win in the 8th Senate District. He will succeed fellow Republican Alberta Darling who resigned and retired in December. While the lack of a supermajority in the Assembly means Gov. Evers’ vetoes are unlikely to be overridden, the two-thirds GOP majority in the Senate opens the door to impeachments and potential removal from office for some state officials.

Under state law, the Assembly can trigger a trial in the Senate with 50 votes. Conviction requires a two-thirds Senate vote. 

Two state constitutional amendments and a statewide advisory referendum all passed by large margins Tuesday. The constitutional amendments expand the use of cash bail, a move in the opposite direction of most bipartisan judicial reforms. The advisory referendum—asking if childless adults should seek work before receiving welfare benefits—does nothing because such rules already exist. Critics say Republicans put the questions on the ballot in an effort to boost voter turnout for Dan Kelly.

Protasiewicz will take over from retiring conservative Justice Pat Roggensack in August.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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