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Backers of WI Supreme Court Candidates Make Big Push

Wisconsin Madison State Capitol Building
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Wisconsin Madison State Capitol Building

The race to fill a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat is drawing a lot of regional and national interest. And it's not just analysts; candidates are getting support in light of potential legal fights over matters such as reproductive rights.

Two liberals and two conservatives are running in next week's primary. The outcome could either maintain the court's current conservative majority or flip the balance toward liberals.

Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said aside from redistricting and voting laws, the court is expected to weigh in on abortion access with federal protections now overturned.

"That seemed to elevate an 1849 law on the books in Wisconsin that essentially bans abortion services in the state," Burden pointed out.

There is now a lawsuit challenging the ban. Those running will not disclose how they would rule, but groups like the American Federation of Teachers have endorsed liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz, who has suggested abortion rights should be protected. Meanwhile, conservative candidate Dan Kelly has received donations from one of the nation's largest anti-abortion donors.

Lisa Graves, executive director of True North Research, said it is true there is support trickling in for candidates on both sides. But she added it is important for voters to know where so-called "dark money" is coming from, as certain outside groups back candidates for reasons beyond judicial fairness.

"What we've seen on the right is focus on supporting judicial activists," Graves observed. "In particular people who they believe will reverse legal precedents like Roe, and other precedents that millions of Americans rely upon."

Kim Kohlhass, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, said their endorsement of Protasiewicz reflects a desire to maintain a fair government through the state's highest court.

"We've seen cases in the past where it has very much been decided upon politics, and we need to have rulings that are based on the state constitution and democracy," Kohlhass asserted.

She added it aligns with calls to ensure access to health care, including reproductive care. For his part, conservative candidate Kelly insists he would not allow politics to influence his rulings.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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