What to Watch in Wisconsin’s High-Stakes Supreme Court Race 2023

American politicians often convince citizens that this election is the most significant of their lives.

Wisconsin’s fiercely split voters will pick a Supreme Court justice on Tuesday to fill a swing seat.

The winner—Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal Milwaukee County judge, or Daniel Kelly, a conservative former State Supreme Court justice—will decide abortion rights, gerrymandered electoral maps, and 2024 presidential election voting and election lawsuits.

Both sides have framed the ostensibly nonpartisan campaign as existential—win and democracy lives, lose and it dies.

Wisconsin Democrats, stranded in the electoral desert for a decade, saw Judge Protasiewicz as their road to abortion rights and fair maps. State Republicans think Judge Kelly is their final shot to stop leftist dictatorship by fiat.

Wisconsin may swing left again.

Wisconsin Republicans talk about the election as if Justice Protasiewicz will roll into the Supreme Court with a gigantic eraser to erase all of the legislative policies and structural advantages the G.O.P. has constructed since Scott Walker became governor in 2011.

That’s true.

This Monday, Cedarburg Republican state senator Duey Stroebel warned, “A lot of the lawfully approved legislation by the elected officials of the state of Wisconsin will be considered unconstitutional. “She would decide based on her personal opinions, not the people choosing their representatives.”

Judge Protasiewicz has stated her opinions. She opposed Wisconsin’s 1849 law banning abortion in nearly all cases, which went back into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, and she called the legislative maps Republicans drew to give themselves a durable near-supermajority in the State Legislature “rigged” and “unfair.”

Crime and abortion dominate.

Judge Protasiewicz (pronounced pro-tuh-SAY-witz) has made the contest about abortion rights in Wisconsin from the start. Her team has spent $12 million on TV advertising in the last six weeks telling people that she supports them and Justice Kelly does not.

“Judge Janet Protasiewicz believes in women’s freedom to make their own abortion decisions,” her final television commercial says.

It’s a gamble on Democrats’ most potent issue since the U.S. Supreme Court left it to the states last summer.

Wisconsin TV airs the cash-filled game.

This Wisconsin Supreme Court election is expected to draw the most voters ever.

The Feb. 21 primary had more voters than the August primaries for governor and Senate. According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the early-vote total as of Monday was nearly a third of the 2019 State Supreme Court election, the last one that did not fall on the same day as a presidential primary.

The record-breaking expenditure in the contest—$39 million on television alone, according to AdImpact, a media-tracking firm—has insured that almost every Wisconsinite is at least aware of the race, a significant obstacle in traditionally low-turnout spring elections.

The 2004 Illinois Supreme Court contest cost $15 million, but the final cost is anticipated to quadruple.

The State Senate contest is equally important.

Wisconsin is conducting a special election on Tuesday for a vacant State Senate seat in four suburbs north of Milwaukee.

Republican control of the district is waning. Trump won it by 12 points in 2016 but just 5 in 2020. Jodi Habush Sinykin, a Democrat, is campaigning on abortion rights.

If State Representative Dan Knodl wins, the GOP would have a two-thirds supermajority in the State Senate, allowing them to impeach and remove judges, statewide elected officials, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ appointees.

Mr. Knodl told PBS Wisconsin that State Senate Republicans’ impeachment powers “definitely will be tested” after his victory.

Cedarburg Republican state lawmaker Mr. Stroebel termed impeaching Judge Protasiewicz for predicted abortion and gerrymandering verdicts implausible “but probably not impossible.”

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