Updated Apr 5, 2023 - Health

Wisconsin Supreme Court flips to liberal majority in race spotlighting abortion

Picture of Janet Protasiewicz wearing a pink and purple striped jacket and holding a microphone

Janet Protasiewicz, who won the Wisconsin's supreme court race, onstage during the live taping of "Pod Save America" on March 18, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo: Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems

Milwaukee Judge Janet Protasiewicz on Tuesday was elected to Wisconsin's supreme court, giving the key swing state's highest court a liberal majority that could potentially expand abortion rights there, AP reports.

The big picture: The seven-member Wisconsin Supreme Court has had a conservative majority since 2008. It's poised to decide in the next few years the constitutionality of a 19th century abortion ban that was cited to restrict access to the procedure in the state since the fall of Roe v. Wade.

  • Protasiewicz will serve a 10-year term, succeeding conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, whose term expires in July 2023.

State of play: While the justice races are technically nonpartisan, the race captured national attention, and Protasiewicz was endorsed by Democrats and abortion rights groups. Her opponent, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, received endorsements from Republicans and anti-abortion groups.

  • Protasiewicz, who currently serves as a Milwaukee County judge, has openly supported abortion rights, whereas Kelly was critical of abortion in a 2012 blog post.
  • The race is considered to be the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history.

What they're saying: "Our state is taking a step forward to a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms will be protected," Protasiewicz said in her victory speech to supporters in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

Catch up fast: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) filed a lawsuit just days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe challenging a an 1849 law that bans abortion in the state except when necessary to "save the life" of the pregnant person.

  • The lawsuit, filed by the state's attorney general, is seeking declaratory judgment that the ban is unenforceable. The challenge has not yet reached Wisconsin's supreme court, but is expected to.
  • Legal experts say that pre-Roe bans need some sort of state action to take effect after Roe's fall, but the legal uncertainty around Wisconsin's law has forced providers to stop offering abortions in the state.
  • Evers had previously called a special legislative session to try to repeal the law, but the effort failed after Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature gaveled in and out of the session refusing to take action.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Judge Janet Protasiewicz.

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