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In Wisconsin, a court that almost overturned Biden's win flips to liberal control

Janet Protasiewicz’s April victory upended 15 years of conservative control of the state’s highest court.

By Associated Press - August 01, 2023
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Janet Protasiewicz
Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Democratic-supported Janet Protasiewicz participates in a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MADISON, WI — The Wisconsin Supreme Court flips to liberal control for the first time in 15 years Tuesday with the start of the term of a new justice who made abortion rights a focus of her winning campaign.

Janet Protasiewicz will mark the start of her term with a swearing-in ceremony in the state Capitol Rotunda, the type of pomp and circumstance typically reserved for governors. Protasiewicz’s win carries tremendous weight in Wisconsin, a battleground where the state Supreme Court has been the last word on some of the biggest political and policy battles of the past decade-plus.

The conservative-controlled court came within one vote of overturning President Joe Biden’s narrow win in the state in 2020, though Biden still would have had enough electoral votes to claim the presidency. More battles over voting rules and elections are expected leading up to 2024, along with challenges to the state’s abortion ban, Republican-drawn political boundary lines and a host of other hot-button political issues.

Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, ran with backing and deep financial support from Democrats, abortion rights groups and other liberals in the officially nonpartisan race. She handily defeated her conservative opponent in April, raising expectations among liberals that the new court will soon do away with the state’s abortion ban, order new maps to be drawn and ensure a long line of Democratic success after 15 years of rulings that largely favored Republicans.

Even as liberals have high hopes that the new court will rule in their favor, there are no guarantees. Republicans were angered when a conservative candidate they backed in 2019 turned out to sometimes side with liberal justices.

Protasiewicz replaces retiring conservative Justice Pat Roggensack, who served 20 years, including six as chief justice.

While it may be a while before the court weighs in on some topics, a new lawsuit challenging the GOP-drawn legislative and congressional district maps is expected to be filed within weeks. And there is already a pending case challenging Wisconsin’s pre-Civil War era abortion ban, and a county judge ruled last month that it can proceed, while also calling into question whether the law actually bans abortions.

The rules for voting and elections are also expected to come before the court heading into the 2024 presidential election.

A national Democratic law firm filed a lawsuit last month seeking to undo a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling last year banning absentee ballot drop boxes.

The new liberal majority was making immediate changes. Randy Koschnick, who as director of state courts has managed the statewide court system for six years, said he was informed Monday that he would be fired Tuesday afternoon.

Koschnick, a former county judge who ran for the state Supreme Court in 2009 with support from conservatives but lost to a liberal incumbent, said he was told by liberal Justice Jill Karfosky that he was being fired because the court was “moving in a different direction.”


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