Feb. 18 primary to narrow Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate field

A nonpartisan primary will take place on Feb. 18 to narrow the candidate field in the 2020 election of a justice to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Incumbent Daniel Kelly, Ed Fallone, and Jill Karofsky are running in the primary. Kelly is a member of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority. Fallone and Karofsky have each pledged to join the court’s liberal minority. Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Kelly has received support from Republican-affiliated groups and Fallone and Karofsky from Democratic-affiliated groups.

Kelly was appointed to the court in 2016 by then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) to fill a vacancy opened by the retirement of David Prosser. He says that he has the broadest range of legal experience, including as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and litigator.

Fallone is a law professor at Marquette University who ran for state supreme court in 2013. He says that he will bring new perspectives to the bench from his time as a law professor and his work with the Hispanic community and low-income clients.

Karofsky is a judge on the Dane County Circuit Court who was elected in 2017. She says she has the most firsthand experience applying the law and seeing how supreme court decisions impact residents.

All three candidates say they are running to oppose politicization of the court.

The top two finishers in the primary will advance to a general election on April 7. The winner of the general election will begin a 10-year term. A win for either Fallone or Karofsky would reduce the size of the conservative majority on the court to 4-3, meaning control of the court would be at stake during the next election in 2023. A win for Kelly would preserve the current 5-2 balance, meaning that control of the court will not be at stake until the 2026 election assuming no justices leave the bench early.

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court elections have been decided by narrow margins. In the 2019 election, conservative Brian Hagedorn defeated liberal Lisa Neubauer by a margin of 50.2% to 49.7%. Setting aside the 2017 election (in which the incumbent was unopposed), the widest margin of victory for a Wisconsin Supreme Court election in the past decade was Ann Walsh Bradley’s 58.1% to 41.9% win in 2015.

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