Wisconsin Court Race Becomes Highly Partisan – Not Always This Way


Voters in Wisconsin are getting ready to cast their ballots in one of the most crucial elections of this year. The race is between Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee Country judge and Daniel Kelly, a conservative former state Supreme Court justice. This race is highly partisan as both candidates have starkly different ideologies.

The difference between the ideologies of judicial candidates used to matter less than endorsements from legal and law enforcement figures during the 1980s and 1990s according to Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette University Law School Poll. However, in recent years with public sector unions weakening and the intense polarization of politics, counties yield to candidates that fit their respective ideologies. This has been made possible by changes in the campaign finance law of 2015, which allows for unlimited donations to political parties and their candidates.

The 2011 Supreme Court race was seen as a referendum on the tenure of Scott Walker, a Republican, as governor and Wisconsin politics has become especially acrimonious since then due to the passing of a law that weakened public sector unions. Moreover, the 2008 race was contentious as the conservative candidate ran false attack ads against the only Black justice on the court.

This election has turned out to be the most politically aligned yet, as the stakes are even higher. Whoever wins the election will decide whether abortion remains a felony in Wisconsin. Abortion access is firmly supported by the liberal candidate while anti-abortion efforts are supported by the conservative candidate. Charles Franklin says the election will be a test of the degree to which Wisconsin voters embrace the explicitly partisan “values” messages being broadcast by the candidates.

Marquette University Law School Poll is an independent polling center based at Marquette University in Wisconsin. It was founded in 2008 and since then it has become one of the leading sources for public opinion on state and national issues. Charles Franklin is the founding director of Marquette Law School Poll and is considered one of the foremost authorities on polling data in the United States.

This Wisconsin court race is a milestone for the core values of American politics and the outcome will set a precedent for other elections of similar kind. With the increase of political polarization over the years and the record-breaking spending of this election, it will be interesting to see if Janet Protasiewicz’s openly partisan views manage to connect with the Wisconsin voters.