Conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Kelly running
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly announced Tuesday that he will run for a full term next year, giving conservatives a chance to preserve a 5-2 majority on the state’s highest court in an election liberals are targeting to pick up a seat.
Kelly was appointed in 2016 by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Marquette University Law School professor Ed Fallone and Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky have also announced they are running. Both of them would offer liberal alternatives to Kelly.
While the majority isn’t at stake, Kelly said at a news conference in the Supreme Court chamber that the race is about what direction the court will take. He was joined by Justice Rebecca Bradley, Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn and retired Justice David Prosser, all conservatives.
Kelly said he shared Hagedorn’s judicial philosophy and that his win in this year’s race excited people across the state in a “tremendous way.”
“I’ve been energized by their excitement and I’m grateful for their support,” Kelly said of Hagedorn supporters. “And they’ve told me they want to keep this momentum going. They’re excited about what they were able to do to Brian Hagedorn and they want to be able to do the same thing for me.”
The primary is Feb. 18 and the general election is April 7, the same date as the presidential primary in Wisconsin. Democratic turnout is expected to be high in that election, bolstering the hopes of liberals who hope to oust Kelly and narrow the conservative majority on the court.
Karofsky, in a message on Twitter, said she expected a “spirited and important conversation about our experience in the law and our view of the law.”
Karofsky won election to an open seat on the Dane County court in 2017. Democratic Govs. Jim Doyle and Tony Earl endorsed her in that race. She was working at the state Department of Justice as the violence against women prosecutor and leader of the Office of Crime Victim Services before being elected.
Fallone, a Marquette professor for the past 27 years, had Democratic support when he previously ran for the Supreme Court in 2013. Fallone lost 57% to 43% against now Chief Justice Patience Roggensack. Fallone would be the first candidate elected to the Supreme Court who is not a sitting judge in nearly 40 years and he would also be the first Latino justice.
“I believe that merit and integrity — and not political connections — are what qualify a person for a seat on our State’s highest court, and I believe that the voters of Wisconsin agree with me,” Fallone said in a statement.
Liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet endorsed Karofsky on Tuesday, while former liberal court candidate Tim Burns got behind Fallone.
Kelly worked as a private attorney but had no judicial experience before Walker appointed him to the court. He was president of the Milwaukee chapter of the conservative Federalist Society and was on the advisory panel for the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
As an attorney, Kelly successfully defended Wisconsin Republicans’ 2011 legislative redistricting plan in a federal lawsuit alleging the maps denied voters their rights. He was Prosser’s co-counsel during the justice’s election recount in 2011 and advised Bradley during her 2016 campaign.
“Dan Kelly is as right wing as you get,” said Joanna Beilman-Dulin, research director for the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. “At no point in his career has Dan Kelly shown the ability or the inclination to be anything other than an extreme right-wing partisan.”
Kelly’s appointment drew controversy because of writings on same-sex marriage and affirmative action.
He wrote about gay marriage in an essay contrasting justice with fairness, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize the practice “will eventually rob the institution of marriage of any discernible meaning.”
Kelly wrote that affirmative action forces employers to hire people society wants them to hire and is a derivative of slavery.
“Affirmative action and slavery differ, obviously, in significant ways. But it’s more a question of degree than principle, for they both spring from the same taproot,” Kelly wrote. “Neither can exist without the foundational principle that it is acceptable to force someone into an unwanted economic relationship. Morally, and as a matter of law, they are the same.”
Kelly was asked about the writing Tuesday and said he was mirroring the position taken by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
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