Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack retired from her position, creating an opening that could determine whether the Supreme Court will maintain a conservative majority or switch to a liberal majority.
Wisconsin’s spring primary election Feb. 21 will determine which two Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates move on to the April election, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
In the coming years, it is likely the Court will move to make decisions surrounding high-level issues facing Americans and Wisconsinites today — including abortion rights and gerrymandering, according to prior reporting by The Badger Herald.
There are currently four candidates seeking to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court — conservative candidates Jennifer Dorrow and Daniel Kelly and liberal candidates Everett Mitchel and Janet Protasiewicz.
Traditionally, serving on the Supreme Court was seen as a non-partisan position, but this has changed over the past few decades, according to University of Wisconsin professor of political science Barry Burden.
“Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country,” Burden said. “That matters a lot in presidential elections because the President selected by the Electoral College and Wisconsin’s electoral votes could go either way, in any given election.”
In state elections, such as the Supreme Court race, both parties have a good chance of getting a majority vote, according to Burden.
Though justices should decide on cases in an unbiased way and without favoring a specific political party, recent political polarization across the nation has led elected officials to end up representing 0ne political ideology in some way, according to Burden.
“This is a nonpartisan race officially,” Burden said. “So the parties aren’t openly backing candidates and candidates won’t have party labels on the ballot.”
A large issue for any election is fighting against misinformation and ensuring voters get all the facts behind each candidate, according to Burden.
As an important race, it is likely that candidates will utilize increased advertising — which can sometimes result in misinformation, Burden said.
“This is going to be a very expensive Supreme Court race,” Burden said. “It might be the most expensive in the history of any Supreme Court race at any stage. And that really sets up the potential for a lot of misinformation or disinformation because that money is going to be spent mostly on 30-second video ads that appear on TV or streaming services or websites.”
An abortion ban lawsuit traveling through the circuit courts will most likely be brought to the State Supreme Court after the new justice is elected, with conservative justices most likely voting to uphold the 1849 law and liberal justices likely to vote in favor of repealing it. This means that whichever group holds the majority in the Supreme Court will likely decide on the issue, Burden said.
“The number one issue is abortion,” Burden said. “After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, that activated a law in Wisconsin from 1849 that essentially bans all abortions in the state.”
Another issue facing the Supreme Court is redistricting.
“There’s been an ongoing battle in the state for the last dozen years over the drawing of legislative district lines, mostly for the state legislature,” Burden said. “And those lines have really advantaged the Republican Party. There have been lawsuits against them repeatedly. Some went to the U.S. Supreme Court, some went to the state Supreme Court, and Republicans have mostly prevailed in those cases.”
This is also a partisan issue, with both liberal candidates promising they will work with the other justices to re-evaluate the current district maps to prevent any party from having an unfair advantage and conservative candidates claiming it is not the Supreme Court’s responsibility to aid in redistricting, according to the Wisconsin Examiner.
UW political science professor David Canon said issues surrounding redistricting impact elections now, while also impacting political races in years to come.
“The main thing is that Wisconsin has an extreme partisan gerrymandering that has kept district lines in place for the 2021 elections and will be used for all elections this decade,” Canon said.
This is a large issue for the state of Wisconsin, as the district lines are heavily catered to the Republican Party, according to Canon.
“[The lines are] not at all a reflection of the political balance in this state,” Canon said.
There have been elections in which Democrats win the majority, but due to gerrymandering, Democrats only win about one-third of the district, according to Canon.