The stakes of the state’s Supreme Court election couldn’t be higher.
Hi, I’m Ari Berman, national voting rights correspondent for Mother Jones.
Donald Trump’s indictment may be capturing the headlines at the moment. But there’s an election in Wisconsin on Tuesday that will render huge—if not equal—consequences for democracy and the 2024 election. It’s been dubbed the most important race of 2023—and for good reason.
At stake is the balance of power on the state Supreme Court, which could determine the future of redistricting, voting laws, and abortion rights in one of the country’s most critical swing states. I can’t overstate how serious this all is.
Some background: I’ve been covering Wisconsin for a decade, looking at how the state has been the GOP’s model for subverting democracy through antidemocratic practices like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and lame-duck laws stripping Democrats of power. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been a key driver of GOP efforts to make their majorities voter-proof and turn the state into what Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, calls “a democracy-free zone.” The court came just one vote shy of ruling in favor of Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, which would’ve plunged the country into a constitutional crisis.
But if progressive candidate Janet Protasiewicz defeats Daniel Kelly, a former conservative justice who advised the state GOP on a fake elector scheme to nullify Joe Biden’s victory, that will give progressives their first majority on the court since 2008. This might be their best—and perhaps only—chance to roll back the GOP’s decade-plus efforts to undermine democracy in the state, like the heavily gerrymandered maps that have locked in enormous Republican majorities in the legislature and a series of laws that have made it harder to vote. The court could also strike down hugely unpopular policies that the GOP-controlled legislature refuses to change, like a criminal abortion ban from 1849 that immediately took effect after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Tomorrow’s election may very well determine if Wisconsin can become a functioning democracy again. And as we all saw in 2020, what happens in Wisconsin goes a long way toward determining what happens nationally.