Supreme Court race: Protasiewicz, Kelly spar over Wisconsin's abortion law

Janet Protasiewicz and Daniel Kelly
Posted at 2:19 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 15:19:43-05

MILWAUKEE — In less than 5 weeks, voters across Wisconsin will choose between Janet Protasiewicz and Daniel Kelly for a seat on the state's highest court.

The race has become very political with the election outcome determining control of the court's ideology.

Political reporter Charles Benson interviewed both candidates on an issue getting a lot of attention.

The battle for the open seat is supposed to be a nonpartisan election, but try getting voters to believe that.

"Not at all," said Marquette Junior Sherlean Roberts, a Political Science student closely watching the race.

One reason it has become so political is the hyper-partisan debate over what will happen to the state's 1849 abortion law that bans almost all abortions in the state.

Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the liberal candidate in the race, has been very vocal about her support for reproductive rights.

"I can tell you with 100% certainty that if Dan Kelly is elected to the Supreme Court that the 1849 abortion ban is going to stand," said Judge Protasiewicz.

Former Justice Dan Kelly says he's made no promises on how he would rule on the abortion law.

Justice Kelly is the conservative candidate in the race. He has been endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life, which says it "endorses candidates who have pledged to champion pro-life values."

"My understanding is that their endorsement is of my judicial philosophy, not politics. Not issues but judicial philosophy," said Justice Kelly.

Kelly accuses his opponent of playing politics. "She's proposing to put her thumb on the scales of justice," he said.

Judge Protasiwicz is the first-ever judicial endorsement for the pro-choice group Emily's List. According to the group, "The rights and freedoms of millions of Wisconsinites hinge on a Wisconsin Supreme Court committed to reproductive freedom."

But Protasiewicz isn't saying with certainty what would happen to the 1849 law.

"I can't tell you that," said Judge Protasiewicz. "I can't tell you how that issue is going to be framed. I don't know how it's going to be brought in front of the Supreme Court."

For Roberts, her classroom conversations have taught her to ask the right questions.

"What do you want out of representation from a candidate? If you had a conversation with this candidate, do you feel like what you said to them would actually matter," said Roberts.

The general election is on April 4. The winning candidate's ten-year term begins in August.