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Sparks fly at Tuesday’s battleground state’s swing seat Supreme Court debate

By Steve Schuster and Ethan Duran

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Wisconsin Supreme Court debate in Madison March 21, 2023 (Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Bar)

Sparks fly at Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court debate in Madison as Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly remain in the national spotlight for our battleground state’s swing seat. The April 4 election is less than two weeks away and early voting began in the Badger state Tuesday.

During the debate, Protasiewicz said that Kelly “is a true threat to our democracy.”

Kelly responded that Protasiewicz is lying and slandering not only him, but all lawyers.

The State Bar of Wisconsin, along with its partners, and WISC-TV, hosted the debate Tuesday, March 21 at 12:45 p.m.

Wisconsin will once again be a battleground state for the 2024 presidential election and since the split Wisconsin Supreme Court may be once again faced with outcome of that election, the stakes are high.

The debate covered a number of issues ranging from gerrymandering and abortion to other public policy issues.

Kelly said he doesn’t trust Protasiewicz to apply the rule of law.

In response, Protasiewicz said, “I follow laws I don’t necessarily like or agree with.”

Waxing poetic Protasiewicz says she’s spent her entire career protecting the community with 25 years in the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office, and now as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge.

“My only client has been the people of the state of Wisconsin. I will point out that (Kelly) has represented some very dangerous people,” Protasiewicz said.

Kelly responded by again saying that Protasiewicz has spent her career lying, and in return Protasiewicz said Kelly has a track-record of corruption.

Both Kelly and Protasiewicz have been holding campaign events around the state.

On the Ides of March, Kelly held a fundraiser at the Westmoor Country Club in Brookfield, Wis. with Scott Presler. Presler organized a Stop The Steal protest outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and called the ensuing riot the “largest civil rights protest in American history.”

The Wisconsin Examiner described Presler as “a Virginia native with a long history of right-wing extremism” who appeared with the Republican Women of Waukesha Count, a partisan group which drew attention in 2020 for giving a standing ovation to Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother at an event — and the Kenosha County Republican Party.

Kenosha County Sheriff David W. Zoerner is listed among a long list of Wisconsin law enforcement who has endorsed Kelly. Zoerner has not returned the Wisconsin Law Journal’s phone calls.

On March 3, 2023, A Better Wisconsin Together published a press release stating that “Presler helped organize election-denying rallies following then-President Donald Trump’s loss … He also went on right-wing media to encourage viewers to protest the vote. While speaking on OAN, for instance, he told viewers that they needed to rally … On January 6, 2021, he went to Washington, D.C., and was outside the Capitol for what he (absurdly) claimed was “the largest civil rights protest in American history.”



Wisconsin Senator Lena Taylor tells the Wisconsin Law Journal that she would hope that a candidate running for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat would have more respect for the rule of law.

“I would hope for elected leaders or judges not encouraging the overthrow of our government, or our elections  … and damaging government property,” Taylor said in an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal.

Media Matters previously documented that Presler promoted QAnon in dozens of instances on his Instagram account. Presler has also worked for the anti-Muslim group Act for America, which, The Associated Press wrote, “is identified by the Anti-Defamation League as the largest anti-Muslim group in America. The group spreads conspiracy theories about Muslims and ‘stokes irrational fears’ of them, ADL says. The Southern Poverty Law Center also labels Act for America as an ‘extremist hate group,” the release states.

The Wisconsin Law Journal reached out to Kelly’s campaign multiple times requesting comment and received no response.

Protasiewicz has attended a number of events recently including with Native American Tribal Leaders in Madison.

Both Kelly and Protasiewicz were invited to attend the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council meeting in Madison last week, but only Protasiewicz was in attendance (Photo courtesy of Twitter / Janet Protasiewicz)

In Sioux Lakota, there is a saying, Mitakuye Oyasin — we are all related (all races, genders, religions are all connected).

Protasiewicz said this phrase resonates with her personal beliefs.

“There is much more that unites us than divides us, which is why it’s critical that common sense, fairness, and impartiality are hallmarks of our judicial system. If society strived more for this interconnected ideal, there would be more agreement, empathy, and compromise rather than the extreme partisanship we have currently. As a judge, I’ve always worked to treat people fairly, give them a fair trial, and follow the laws of our state,” Protasiewicz said.

As previously reported by The Wisconsin Law Journal, when the 2020 presidential election case was before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “We were one vote away from losing our Democracy,” said State Senator Kelda Roys. The politically split court ultimately decided not to over turn the election results as conservatives wanted.

Until Monday, Kelly has been very adamant about not discussing his personal views on issues that might come before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When asked about collective bargaining and abortion, Kelly has repeatedly declined to state an opinion and has deferred to the legislature. Kelly previously said that his personal opinion is not relevant to the work of the court and that he would apply the rule of law. However, on Monday, that shifted with the Second Amendment and gun control, immediately following his endorsement by the NRA.

Kelly who had previously served on the Supreme Court after being appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, deleted a series of blog posts containing his personal views on a variety of topics including Medicare, Social Security, gun control, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

Despite his endorsement by the NRA, Kelly previously blogged about the Second Amendment’s limitations.

“The pro-gun crowd tends to ignore the primary justification for the Second Amendment, and focuses instead of its derivative benefits … The Second Amendment is not … about hunting nor personal defense,” Kelly wrote.

On Social Security and Medicare, Kelly said that he thinks that’s just for those folks who “have chosen to retire without sufficient assets to support themselves.”

Regarding abortion, Kelly said, “They know abortion takes the life of an unborn child, and if they said otherwise they know they would be laughed out of the room.”

Read more of Kelly’s deleted blogs by clicking here.

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