Former justice, three circuit court judges vying for open seat on Wisconsin Supreme Court

Jennifer Dorow, Daniel Kelly, Everett Mitchell, and Janet Protasiewicz are running in the nonpartisan primary for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Feb. 21, 2023. The filing deadline is Jan. 3. A nonpartisan general election will be held on April 4.

Justice Patience Roggensack’s term will expire on July 31, 2023. Roggensack is not running for re-election.

While supreme court elections are officially nonpartisan, the court is considered to have a 4-3 conservative majority. With Roggensack—a member of the court’s conservative majority—retiring, this election will determine the ideological control of the court. In 2020, liberals gained a seat when Jill Karofsky defeated then-Justice Daniel Kelly—who Gov. Scott Walker (R) appointed to the court—55.2% to 44.7%.

Dorow joined the Waukesha County Circuit Court in 2012 after being appointed by Walker. In her campaign announcement, Dorow said, “We must replace Justice Roggensack with a judicial conservative who will fairly and faithfully apply the law as written to the facts of the cases that come before the court.”

Kelly, who previously served on the supreme court from 2016 to 2020, said, “If an activist were to win next April, Wisconsin’s public policy would be imposed by four lawyers sitting in Madison instead of being adopted through our constitutional processes. I won’t let that happen on my watch.”

Mitchell, who was first elected to the Dane County Circuit Court in 2016, said, “[P]reserving the integrity and independence of the court has never been more important. … Wisconsinites deserve a justice who has the highest respect for the Wisconsin Constitution and is committed to ensuring that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is an instrument of balance and justice rather than partisan divide.”

Protasiewicz was first elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2014. Protasiewicz said, “We must restore confidence that judges aren’t just trying to reach their favored outcomes, but actually applying the law and the constitution. I’m running to restore integrity to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and get politics out of the courtroom.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Corrinne Hess, “[Mitchell and Protasiewicz] are running as liberal candidates. Kelly and Dorow are running as conservative candidates.”

University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse political analyst Anthony Chergosky said after Dorow entered the race, “We could have a primary election where two liberal justices emerge as the top two. We could have a primary election where two conservative justices emerge as the top two. … We are experiencing a campaign that just got injected with a lot of unpredictability.”

Reporters have identified abortion policy, election administration, and legislative redistricting as some of the contentious issues the court could address following the election.

Wisconsin has a divided government where neither party holds a trifecta. The governor is Democrat Tony Evers, while the Republican Party controls both chambers of the state legislature.

Wisconsin is one of two states holding elections for state supreme court in 2023.