Court candidates (copy)

Janet Protasiewicz and Dan Kelly are running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The stakes are too high to sit out the state Supreme Court elections this April.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has handed off the legality of abortion and other major issues to the states, Wisconsin courts are more decisive than ever. In the coming year, our state Supreme Court could rule on everything from the future of abortion access to the preservation of our right to vote under fair maps.

The stakes are sky high and wealthy special interest groups have taken notice. It’s up to every Wisconsinite, but especially us as young voters, to make sure that it’s the people of Wisconsin — not out-of-state dark money spenders — who decide who sits on our court.

The fact is, the rights and freedoms of every Wisconsinite will be on the ballot next month. Just consider the future of abortion access in our state. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to an abortion was torn away at the federal level and a draconian abortion ban from 1849 was revived here in Wisconsin. Today, in 2023, Wisconsinites are forced to abide by a law that was passed 16 years before slavery was abolished nationwide and more than seven decades before the legal right to vote was extended to women. The people of Wisconsin have been robbed of our rights to our bodies, health care and medical privacy. This can’t stand.

In the coming months or years, our State Supreme court will have no choice but to rule on the constitutionality of this archaic abortion ban. In the judicial election this April, we have the opportunity to ensure that the newest judge on the court is someone who understands that our fundamental rights and freedoms should be protected, not stripped away.

As if abortion weren’t enough, Wisconsin courts are also likely to rule on the critical issues of voting rights and fair maps. Voting districts in Wisconsin determine how much public funds will go towards our hospitals, schools and other necessary services. Fair voting districts are also the only way to ensure that the voices of Wisconsinites of color are heard.

Extremist politicians in charge of drawing our state maps have doubled down on efforts to manipulate our voting districts in such a way that ensures their reelection by silencing the voices of thousands of Wisconsin voters across the state. It’s almost certain that our court will face a case involving these unfair district maps, but there’s no guarantee that our judges will be in opposition. Next month, we have a chance to elect a judge who is willing to stand up for our right to vote.

There’s another reason it’s so important that all Wisconsin voters, including young voters, turn out in April: Dark money from out-of-state interest groups threatens to silence all our voices and undermine the independence of our courts. For years now, big-dollar spenders have been working doggedly to politicize our courts and buy influence. Money is flooding judicial elections at a terrifying rate. The 2020 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court was the most expensive in the state in more than a decade, while this year’s race is expected to break all spending records.

Just look at last month’s primary for the judicial election. Reports revealed that a single PAC donation by a wealthy donor from Illinois outweighed the donations of all Wisconsinites combined. That was no anomaly. Partisan groups representing both liberal and conservative interests have realized that their checks are always good in Wisconsin, and that’s bad news for Wisconsin citizens.

We don’t vote for our judges to be politicians, starting partisan food fights and trading political favors. We vote for judges to be impartial and fair-minded, loyal only to our state Constitution and not campaign donors. But if we don’t stand united and turn out next month, dark money will win the day and decide for us what kind of judge represents us.

Wisconsin judicial elections have become infamous for their low participation rates, with many voters opting to not make their voices heard. That can’t happen again this time around.

Our courts are the last line of defense for our rights and freedoms. They rule on key issues like school funding for our schools, neighborhood safety, and the purity of our water and air.

This April, do what’s right for your community and vote in our state Supreme Court election. The future of Wisconsin depends on it.

Cendi Tena and Amanda Avalos serve as co-executive directors of Leaders Igniting Transformation, a Black and Brown-led independent nonprofit that organizes young people to build independent political power.

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