By Steve Schuster
The April 4 Wisconsin Supreme Court election is just a few days away and there is a lot at stake — our democracy, a former Attorney General said Monday in Milwaukee.
“This is a state where progressivism was started with Robert La Follette. This is where it all began. People around the country looked to Wisconsin for how democracy should be perfected. And now, people are looking at Wisconsin yet again, to see how democracy can be saved. That is what’s at stake,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder during a campaign event on Saturday for Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz.
“This is the most important race in the country for 2023. It’s all on the line,” Holder said echoing the sentiments of political science professors and New York Times coverage of the Badger State.
The winner of the open swing seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will have a profound impact on issues ranging from Medicaid expansion and abortion to gerrymandering, Holder said.
Holder said in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, an 1849 law prohibits abortion in Wisconsin in 2023. “If you think back to 1849, women couldn’t vote, people like me couldn’t vote. … Dan Kelly is a person who supports that 1849 law … when you think about that … an 1849 law … we’re going to back to that to decide about reproductive rights in the 21st century?,” Holder asked.
Regarding fair elections, Holder said that “Wisconsin is probably the most gerrymandered state in the country,” noting that Democrats only have about 35% of the Wisconsin legislature, which he said is a direct result of the gerrymandering political lines that were redrawn in 2011 under Scott Walker and defended by Protasiewicz’s opponent Dan Kelly who had the Republican party as a client.
Holder noted that Wisconsin is right down there with Texas currently as far as the most gerrymandered state in the nation.
“When you get compared to Texas when it comes to electoral things, that’s not a good thing,” Holder said, noting that “Texas is the hardest state in the country in which to vote. You don’t want to be there,” he said.
“Let’s go back to the old Wisconsin, the pre-Scott Walker Wisconsin where people actually have an opportunity to decide who’s going to represent them because in this gerrymandered state, you have folks who are supporting special interests against the desires of the people,” Holder said noting that electing Protasiewicz will bring justice back to the Badger state.
Collective bargaining, voter rights, education, the environment, gun control and much more are also issue likely to go before the state Supreme Court, as previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal.
Holder noted that the results of Wisconsin’s April 4 election will be looked at closely by others states as Wisconsin will serve as a model.
“What (Wisconsin voters decide) will help decide not only the fate of this state, but also the direction of the nation as well,” Holder said.
Holder said the differences between the two candidates Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly are clear.
“The choice could not be more clear. We have a fair impartial competent Judge Janet Protasiewicz who would make a superb state Supreme Court state justice, against a guy (Dan Kelly) who is MAGA extremist, who is an election denier, who was in part responsible for and defended the Scott Walker’s gerrymandering that you still have to deal with … it’s even amazing (Kelly) is a nominee,” Holder said.
Wisconsin voters have a great deal of power in the coming days, Holder said.
“This is about trying to restore the notion that this great American experiment of ours works and where people decide the direction of the nation, not the special interests and that our democracy is somehow negatively impacted by these gerrymandered systems and this voter suppression. The people of Wisconsin have the ability to say no,” Holder said.
Holder said that this generation of Americans must hold up to the defending of democracy as past generations have done for us in the past.
“Every generation of Americans is called upon to defend democracy and this is our time. We cannot fail. We can’t be the first generations of Americans that fails to defend democracy,” Holder said.
Wisconsin is faced with choice of progress or regression, Holder said noting that “Wisconsin has the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation and to the world that America is back … We are ready to take charge again to the direction of this country by electing Janet Protasiewicz.”
In response to Holder’s speech Saturday, Kelly’s campaign issued a statement.
“… it is beyond obvious that Janet Protasiewicz is nothing but a politician who wants to be a Democrat super-legislator on the Supreme Court,” Jim Dick a Kelly campaign spokesman said in a written statement.
After Holder’s speech The Wisconsin Law Journal sat down with Holder to ask follow up questions.
During Holder’s tenure as Attorney General, in August 2014, Federal Bureau of Investigaton Director James Comey established the FBI’s Intelligence Branch to lead the integration of intelligence and operations across the organization. The Wisconsin Law Journal asked Holder how that has been useful in modern times while gathering intelligence to investigate January 6th insurrectionists that Kelly may have associated himself with on the campaign trial and beyond.
Holder responded that although he left the Justice Department before January 6, he is confident that the FBI has and continues to do a good job holding those accountable for January 6.
The Wisconsin Law Journal asked Holder to comment on Kelly’s association with January 6 insurrectionists.
Holder responded, “that is something of great concern … (Kelly) worked with those people who sent an alternate set of electors to the electoral college to in essence be a part of what the aim of the January 6 conspirators were doing which was in essence to stop the (peaceful) transfer of power. That from my perspective in it of itself is a disqualifier. That is not a person (Kelly) I ought to think should be on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
Holder then said how he found The Milwaukee Bar Association poll to be very interesting.
“I saw a survey of the Milwaukee Bar (Association.) 80% of them said they think Janet Protasiewicz was qualified to be a state Supreme Court Justice. 65% of those same people said that Dan Kelly was unqualified to be a State Supreme Court justice. Now if 65% of your peers … 65% of lawyers are saying you’re not qualified to be on the State Supreme court … that I think is very telling,” Holder said.
The Wisconsin Law Journal also asked Holder about the gerrymandering challenges Democrats will face in Wisconsin’s 8th District Senate race. Holder said he attended a campaign event earlier Saturday with Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin who is running against Republican Rep. Dan Knodel.
Holder said that gerrymandering has made it a “tough district,” but she (Habush Sinykin) “is a really good candidate.”
Ethan Duran contributed to this report.