By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A majority of the current members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have picked a favorite candidate in the race that will decide the ideological balance of the court with several major decisions looming.
Republicans, Democrats and their allies are expected to spend millions of dollars on the race because whoever controls the court will be in position to rule on issues ranging from whether the state’s 1849 abortion ban should remain in effect to whether gerrymandered legislative district maps ought to be redrawn.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley on Tuesday became the latest justice to endorse in the race, throwing her support behind liberal candidate Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz. She is the fourth of seven current justices to issue an endorsement.
Bradley, in a statement, cited Protasiewicz’s experience both as a judge and 25 years as a prosecutor, saying she would be “fair and impartial” on the Supreme Court.
Protasiewicz has raised more money than any of the other candidates and has also been racking up endorsements not just from former justices, but also unions, more than 100 judges and dozens of mostly Democratic elected officials.
She was the first candidate on the air with a TV ad, focusing on abortion, and on Tuesday she released two more spots, including one making light of how difficult her last name is to pronounce.
Outside groups have largely not gotten involved in the primary, but the liberal group A Better Wisconsin Together on Tuesday started running about $800,000 worth of attack ads targeting conservative candidate Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow.
Dorow’s first ads have focused on her presiding over the trial of Darrell Brooks Jr., who was convicted by a jury of killing six people when he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in 2021.
And a conservative group funded by GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, Fair Courts America, launched a $500,000 TV ad buy Friday in support of conservative candidate Dan Kelly. The group’s spokesperson earlier promised to spend millions in support of Kelly, a former Supreme Court justice.
The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 21 primary will advance to the April 4 general election. Early in-person voting began Tuesday across the state and runs through Feb. 19. Exact dates and times available to vote vary.
Protasiewicz and Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell are running as liberals. Kelly and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow are conservative candidates.
Three of the four candidates are endorsed by at least one current member of the Supreme Court. Bradley and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet, both liberals, have endorsed Protasiewicz. Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley has endorsed Kelly. And retiring conservative Justice Pat Roggensack is backing Dorow.
Three current justices have not endorsed anyone ahead of the primary: Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, liberal Justice Jill Karofsky and conservative swing Justice Brian Hagedorn.