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All eyes are on Wisconsin's Supreme Court race.
The high-stakes election has liberal Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz facing off against conservative former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly with the court's 4-3 conservative majority hanging in the balance.
The next court, which would be seated in August, is likely to take on the future of abortion rights, the rules for voting in the 2024 presidential election and political maps produce lopsided Republican majorities in the Legislature.
Conservatives warn that, with a 4-3 liberal majority, lawsuits challenging Republicans' top policy achievements in the past decade under former Gov. Scott Walker could face fresh challenges.
Those issues have interests on both sides of the political spectrum pouring millions of dollars into the race, making it the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history.
Here's a breakdown of the major issues at stake in the election:
The Supreme Court will likely decide access to legal abortion in Wisconsin
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Wisconsin reverted to a law from the 19th century banning abortion in nearly all cases — a policy at odds with the majority of Wisconsin voters, according to state polling.
Following the ruling, Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit to overturn Wisconsin's 1849 criminal abortion ban — a case that's widely expected to end up before the state Supreme Court.
Protasiewicz is campaigning on restoring abortion access in Wisconsin.
"Everything we care about is on the line," Protasiewicz said during a March 1 interview with WTMJ 620 host Steve Scaffidi. Protasiewicz said if Kelly is elected, Wisconsin's criminal ban on abortions will stand.
Kelly has the backing of Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin. He called his opponent a "politician in a black robe."
Kelly says the only conversations he has had with anti-abortion groups are about his plans to apply existing law to resolve cases in a way that's consistent with the Constitution.
"My understanding is that their endorsement is, is their endorsement of my political, my judicial philosophy, not politics, right, not issues, but judicial philosophy, the role of the court and simply applying the law that already exists," Kelly said March 1.
Election maps that favor Republicans could come back to the Supreme Court for review
A challenge to the state's legislative maps is likely to come before the court.
In April 2022, the Supreme Court court ruled 4-3 in favor of a legislative redistricting plan drawn by Republican lawmakers, giving the party's candidates in the Legislature a bigger advantage, with 63 of the 99 Assembly seats and 23 of the 33 Senate seats leaning toward the GOP, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis.
New maps are redrawn every 10 years. But the court would hear a challenge to the current maps if a lawsuit is filed, as is seen as likely, and it makes its way through the system to the Supreme Court.
Protasiewicz called the current maps "rigged" against voters in Milwaukee and Dane counties during a candidate forum in January, signaling she would support taking on a case that would redraw the maps before 2032.
"They do not reflect people in this state. I don't think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair," Protasiewicz said in January.
Kelly said the court's responsibility is limited to considering legal challenges, not political challenges.
The rules for voting in the 2024 presidential election could go to the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court could set the rules for the 2024 presidential election if challenges to either existing voting laws or newly enacted ones make it to the court.
Already, the court's current conservative majority has ruled that the absentee drop boxes that became common during the pandemic are illegal. A lower court prohibited election officials from filling in missing information on absentee ballot return envelopes. The issue could find its way to the Supreme Court.
The court has also ruled in favor of a law banning voters from having someone else mail their absentee ballot or hand it to an elections clerk.
Republicans would like to see more changes to voting rules.
Evers, Walker weigh in on Supreme Court race
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers stressed the importance of the election during a WisPolitics luncheon March 7. Evers said he wouldn't publicly endorse a candidate but didn't hide his hopes for a liberal-leaning court.
"If it works out well, we can take on maps — we don't have to wait 10 years," Evers said. "Issues of reproductive health are very big in the state. Obviously, if you do any polling, the 1849 law is very unpopular and we need to get it straightened out. The only way is through the courts."
Evers added that voting rights have been taken away from Wisconsinites, and those rights need to be re-established.
"If it works out, that's going to be a damn good thing," Evers said.
Former Gov. Scott Walker told the conservative magazine the National Review on Feb. 24 "everything was on the line" with the Supreme Court election. Walker said if Protasiewicz is elected, there's a chance that everything done over the last decade could be undone.
That could include Act 10, Walker’s 2011 law ending collective-bargaining rights for most public employees.
Walker, who appointed Kelly to the Supreme Court, told the National Review everything from the state’s school choice program to welfare reform and tax reform could be invalidated if the state Supreme Court decides to “be activist and just basically impose liberal doctrine.”
Walker didn't respond to requests for comment from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Corrinne Hess can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CorriHess.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Supreme Court election: Here are key issues court could hear