On April 4, Wisconsin will hold an election for a seat on its state supreme court, which has had a clear conservative majority since 2008. Two candidates—judicial conservative Daniel Kelly and progressive Janet Protasiewicz—have advanced out of a four-way primary and are vying to replace a retiring conservative justice. The election, which has already broken records for spending and primary turnout, represents liberals’ first chance in a decade to break the conservative lock.
Media accounts say Wisconsin’s high-profile supreme court election is primarily about two issues: abortion and gerrymandering. That’s true, but the race also tells a broader story about the influence state courts are wielding in the face of divided government and eroding federal rights. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is resolving issues that federal courts and the state’s political branches can’t (or won’t) tackle. Abortion access, electoral maps and executive powers all hang in the balance.