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Wisconsin election has abortion, election rights in the balance

It’s not just the U.S. Supreme Court. As the looming vote to decide control of Wisconsin’s high court shows, you should keep an eye on state courts, too.


While we closely watch the U.S. Supreme Court and all its attendant mischief, it’s important not to lose sight of state courts, which also wield great power.

The latest reminder comes from Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. It’s there that a pivotal election, as NBC News reported, “is all but certain to shape abortion rights in the state and could help decide who wins the crucial battleground in the 2024 presidential election.” A primary was held Tuesday ahead of the April 4 general election, when control of the court will be up for grabs, thanks to a conservative justice who will be retiring from the court, which currently has a 4-3 conservative majority. (Wisconsin justices are technically nonpartisan, so they’re discussed as conservatives and liberals, instead of Republicans and Democrats.)

The stakes couldn’t be clearer after Tuesday’s voting, with the general election now a contest between Daniel Kelly and Janet Protasiewicz. Kelly is a former state Supreme Court justice, as well as a Donald Trump ally who advised Republicans on the “fake electors” scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Protasiewicz is a Milwaukee County circuit judge who was endorsed by Emily’s List, an abortion rights group.

With control of the Wisconsin high court so starkly on the horizon, I was reminded of the recent political change on North Carolina’s top court. As I wrote earlier this month, the North Carolina court shifted from a 4-3 Democratic majority to 5-2 in Republicans’ favor after the November elections. The Republican-controlled court has quickly and brazenly moved to reconsider pro-voting decisions rendered by the previous Democratic majority, including one that could affect the fringe “independent state legislature” appeal that’s pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wisconsin’s court, meanwhile, could move in the other direction. As The Washington Post reported:

If liberals take over the court for the first time in 14 years, they are expected to reverse some GOP policies and could revisit election maps that have given Republicans huge margins in the state legislature.

And while it might make some people uncomfortable to discuss the courts in such openly political terms, there’s also something refreshing about directly acknowledging how power is wielded through the judiciary and acting accordingly. North Carolina’s judiciary is just one example of how much can change on a state supreme court — and quickly.