State Supreme Court balance at stake in Wisconsin

Welcome to the Wednesday, January 11, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Former justice, three circuit court judges vying for open seat on Wisconsin Supreme Court
  2. A recent history of minority party and coalition control of state legislative chambers
  3. Biden currently leads PredictIt’s 2024 presidential general election market

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. The nonpartisan general election is April 4.

Justice Patience Roggensack, whose term expires on July 31, 2023, is retiring. 

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 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%.

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.”

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 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.”

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 issues the court could address following the election.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are the only states holding supreme court elections this year. 

In 2020, we released Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship, a study to discern the partisan balance on each of the country’s 52 courts of last resort. Of the 341 justices we studied, 52.5% recorded Republican Confidence Scores, 33.1% recorded Democratic Confidence Scores, and 14.4% recorded Indeterminate Confidence Scores. Click here to read that study.

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A recent history of minority party and coalition control of state legislative chambers

The beginning of the year following an even-year election cycle means recently-elected state and federal legislators are holding leadership elections. On Jan. 7, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was elected speaker of the U.S. House on the fifteenth vote. The last time a U.S. House speaker election required multiple ballots was in 1923, when Rep. Frederick Huntington Gillett (R-Mass.) was elected speaker on the ninth try. Overall, 15 U.S. House speaker elections have required more than one ballot to determine a winner. 

State legislators are also picking their leaders. Usually, the majority party selects its leaders on a partisan basis. But that doesn’t always happen. One leadership election with an unexpected result happened in Pennsylvania on Jan. 3, when the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted to make Rep. Mark Rozzi (D) speaker. Although Democrats won a majority following the Nov. 8 elections, Republicans gained a functional 101-99 majority because of the death of one Democrat and the resignations of two others. Elections to fill those vacancies will take place Feb. 7

In Ohio on Jan. 3, all 32 House Democrats supported moderate Republican Rep. Jason Stephens for speaker. Stephens was elected 54-43, despite Rep. Derek Merrin (R) winning a House GOP caucus vote for speaker in November 2022 and being widely expected to become the next speaker. 

We’ve tracked similar situations, where bipartisan coalitions have defied expectations when a party wins or maintains a majority in an election. Here are a few examples recent examples: 

  • Ohio: In the January 2019 Ohio House speaker’s race, Rep. Larry Householder (R) defeated incumbent Speaker Ryan Smith (R). Householder was supported by 26 Republicans and 26 Democrats, while Smith was supported by 34 Republicans and 11 Democrats (Republicans won a 61-38 majority in the elections on November 6, 2018). According to the Plain-Dealer, Householder won over Democratic votes by promising to oppose right-to-work legislation that would prohibit union membership as a condition of private sector employment.
  • Alaska: Following the 2016 election, Republicans in the Alaska House won a 21-17-2 majority. But when it came time to select a speaker for the upcoming legislative session, three Republicans and two independents joined with the 17 House Democrats to back Bryce Edgmon—a Democrat. As a result, a member of the minority party won the chamber’s top position. The Republicans who joined the coalition received significant leadership positions. Republican Gabrielle LeDoux was named chair of the rules committee. Paul Seaton was named a co-chair of the finance committee along with Democrat Neal Foster, and Louis Stutes was named majority whip for the coalition. The chair of the Alaska GOP, Tuckerman Babcock, sent a letter to LeDoux, Stutes, and Seaton inviting them to leave the Republican Party.
  • Tennessee: In 2009, Republicans had a 50-49 majority in the Tennessee House. Almost every Republican in the chamber backed their Republican colleague, Jason Mumpower, for speaker. But the 49 Democrats banded together with Republican Kent Williams to make him speaker. Tennessee Republicans extended their majority in 2010 and elected Beth Harwell as speaker in 2011.

You can read in-depth about the more than 20 examples since 1994 of minority and coalition control of state legislative chambers at the link below. 

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Biden currently leads PredictIt’s 2024 presidential general election market

Let’s turn to the 2024 presidential election. 

As of January 9, 2023, PredictIt’s 2024 presidential market shows President Joe Biden (D) holding a lead at $0.34, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) at $0.31, and former President Donald Trump (R) at $0.16. No other candidate has more than a $0.10 share price. The share price, which rises and falls based on market demand, roughly corresponds to the market’s estimate of the probability of an event taking place. 

Trump is the only candidate of this group to have officially announced his presidential campaign.

The Democratic presidential primary market shows Biden leading the pack at $0.64. The only other candidate to have more than a $0.10 share price is California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) at $0.13.

DeSantis currently leads in the Republican presidential primary market at $0.44, followed by Trump at $0.28. No other candidate has more than a $0.10 share price. 

Learn more about PredictIt markets in the 2024 presidential election at the link below. 

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