Progressives win key swing seat in Wisconsin State Supreme Court race
Judge Janet Protasiewicz and her husband Randy Nass share a moment during her election night party in Milwaukee. | Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

MADISON, Wisc. – In what was perhaps the most consequential state Supreme Court race in U.S. history yesterday the winner was a liberal judge, Janet Protasiewicz, giving progressives their first majority on the court since 2008.

Her victory in the race for the key swing seat on the state’s Supreme Court will enable the ending of the GOP’s long stranglehold on power in the Badger State via gerrymandered districts. It will also prevent the Republican controlled legislature from picking their own electors in the 2024 presidential race rather than sending electors to Washington chosen by the voters.

Happening on the same day as Donald Trump’s arrest in Manhattan and the 55th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was a particularly sweet day for the Wisconsin forces committed to the fight for democracy.

Protasiewicz’s victory over right-wing justice Daniel Kelly has huge state and national significance. The new progressive majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to strike down the heavily gerrymandered maps that have frozen in place huge unrepresentative Republican majorities in the legislature. Those majorities have enacted numerous draconic laws that make it extremely difficult for minorities, youth, and the poor to cast votes in any elections in Wisconsin. Those laws too can fall because of the new court majority.

Also incredibly significant is that the new court is expected to reverse the hated 1849 abortion ban – that the legislature now refuses to repeal. A shift in the court also removes the threat that conservatives could use their majority to overturn the 2024 election. This is important because Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in the state failed by just one vote on the old state court.

Kelly’s defeat was a major loss for prominent election deniers and funders of the insurrection who hoped to see a MAGA fascist takeover of one of the nation’s most important state courts – a court in a swing state that could determine the results of an entire national election.

In an anything but graceful election night “concession” speech, Kelly, while acknowledging his loss, called Protasiewicz a “serial liar” and said, “I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.”

Since Republicans took over the legislature and governor’s mansion in 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been the reason the Republicans have been able to veto-proof their majorities.

Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democrats, has called his state a “democracy free zone created by the Republicans.”

A major factor in the Protasewiecz victory was a massive movement, led by women, against the state’s abortion ban. Her election, however, is expected to help usher in a broad new movement for democracy in Wisconsin on a host of issues including a revival of the labor movement the Republicans have tried so hard to kill.

Protasiewicz told the Associated Press that her victory was “really about saving our democracy.”

Things can very well start to change for the better now fairly quickly in Wisconsin. No one does not take seriously the promises by Protasiewicz that she can be counted on to quickly act upon and defend and extend the fights for abortion rights and against gerrymandered election district maps.

Already a challenge to the abortion ban is winding its way through state court and progressive groups have vowed to challenge the redistricting maps—which give Republicans a near super-majority in the legislature despite Democrats having won 14 of the past 17 statewide elections. Change can happen in these areas soon after she is seated on August 1.

Republicans will not just roll over and die, however, and are already planning to maintain their control by mounting an effort to impeach Protasiewicz. That move could well trigger a constitutional crisis in the state.

While the court victory should be celebrated there should be clarity on the fact that the fight for democracy in Wisconsin and the U.S. is far from over and must continue and expand for the foreseeable future.

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.