On Monday, according to the Associated Press and TMJ4 News, results tallied from the previous week’s elections in Wisconsin found progressive Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky winning a decisive victory over Daniel Kelly, a conservative state Supreme Court justice appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker.
The win is a major victory for Wisconsin Democrats, who have now reduced the conservative majority on the court to 4-3 — and a blow to the GOP and conservative activist groups, who did everything they could to elect Kelly to a full term.
The race generated massive controversy, as Wisconsin Republicans sued in both the state and federal Supreme Courts to block efforts to delay the election or expand use of absentee voting — forcing tens of thousands of people to vote in person and risk exposure to COVID-19, despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to create safer alternatives for voting.
President Donald Trump full-throatedly endorsed the voter suppression efforts, baselessly claiming that Democrats were only trying to expand alternatives to in-person voting because he had endorsed Kelly.
The victory is also a relief for Democrats after they had narrowly lost a Supreme Court race in 2019 that they had widely thought winnable. And although the election does not change overall partisan control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it could have profound legal consequences.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a right-wing activist group, is currently involved in a lawsuit to try to force the state to purge hundreds of thousands of voter registrations. Kelly had recused himself from the case due to his previous legal relationship with WILL, and the other justices had deadlocked 3 to 3 on the issue, which would leave in place a lower court ruling blocking the purge. But Kelly had suggested he would un-recuse from the case if elected to a full term, potentially letting the voter purge move forward. Karofsky’s win almost certainly means WILL’s lawsuit is dead — and the GOP can’t purge the state voting rolls.