Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz said Wednesday she would “enjoy taking a fresh look” at Wisconsin’s electoral maps if elected to the state Supreme Court — a look that would come from a court led by a liberal majority for the first time since 2008.
“I would anticipate that I would enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question,” Protasiewicz said on a recent episode of “Wedge Issues,” the Cap Times’ politics podcast.
Protasiewicz’s comments about redistricting aren’t surprising, as she said at a January candidate forum that the state’s maps are “rigged” — but they serve as an illustration of the lines ostensibly nonpartisan candidates walk as judicial races become increasingly driven by partisan influences.
The Milwaukee County judge made similar assertions on the latest episode of “Wedge Issues,” released Thursday, adding that she would not recuse herself from hearing a challenge to the maps despite her comments on the campaign trail.
“I think anybody with any sense knows our maps are rigged,” Protasiewicz said. “We have amongst the most gerrymandered maps in the entire country. I have told people, ‘I don't think you can sell, to any rational person, that our maps are fair.’”
If she’s elected, Protasiewicz said, “I would anticipate that at some point, we'll be looking at those maps," adding that the state's intense and close statewide elections are not reflected in the dominant Republican majorities in the Legislature.
Protasiewicz, a liberal, and former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative, will battle April 4 for a seat on the state’s high court being vacated by retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack.
Protasiewicz and Kelly both emerged from Feb. 21’s four-way primary. Protasiewicz led the way with about 46% of the vote, followed by Kelly who earned about 24% of the vote. Conservative Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow trailed Kelly by about 2 points, and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell, a liberal, finished a distant fourth.
The race has attracted national attention and has already reached the milestone of becoming the most expensive judicial contest in American history.
In addition to her criticism of the state’s legislative boundaries, Protasiewicz has also been outspoken in her support for abortion access — another issue all but certain to come before the state’s high court as a challenge to Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban makes its way through the legal system.
Kelly has accused Protasiewicz of planning to “place her thumb on the scales of justice to ensure the results satisfy her personal interests.”
“If we do not resist this assault on our Constitution and our liberties, we will lose the Rule of Law, and will find ourselves saddled with the Rule of Janet,” Kelly said in a statement following the primary election. “We must not allow this to come to pass.”
Protasiewicz told the Cap Times she believes the public has a right to know the personal values of the candidates they elect, arguing that her personal beliefs don’t prevent her from applying the law in cases where the two conflict.
“I think that everybody knows that anybody running for any type of office has their own personal opinions and their own personal values,” Protasiewicz said. “And the question is, do you want to hide those opinions and those values from the public? Are they entitled to know what your personal feelings are? I mean, we've all got them. So the question is, do we hide them? Or do we let the public know?”
We’ve invited former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly to join us on an upcoming episode and look forward to sharing that conversation soon. Subscribe to Wedge Issues on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or anywhere else you find podcasts.