(CNN) Democrat Janet Protasiewicz will win Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race, CNN projects, flipping majority control in favor of liberals in one of the most important elections of the year on abortion access, election rules and a row in a key swing state.
Protasievich, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, will defeat conservative Daniel Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, in a race that has broken spending records for state judicial elections. His victory could have broken an era of Republican dominance in a state mired in political conflict for more than a decade.
US Supreme Court Roe v. The race was an important gauge of how the abortion issue is motivating voters nearly a year after the Wade case was overturned. A state high court is poised to resolve a legal battle in the coming months Wisconsin Act of 1849 It prohibits abortion in almost all circumstances.
Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court. But the retirement of conservative Justice Patience Roganczak put that majority at risk.
Wisconsin is one of 14 states that directly elects Supreme Court justices, and winners receive 10-year terms. Judicial races there are nominally nonpartisan, but there is no doubt about which candidates political parties support. Spending on this year’s race — as of March 29 — reached $28.8 million Brennan Center — $15.4 million in 2004 Illinois race: Breaks previous record for spending in a state judicial race.
Democrats saw the race as an opportunity to end Republican dominance in Wisconsin, which began with the election of Gov. Scott Walker in 2010 — a victory that was followed by union-busting laws and state legislative districts drawn to effectively ensure GOP majorities. Green light by a state Supreme Court that has held a conservative majority since 2008.
Walker lost his bid for a third term in 2018 to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. But Evers has been blocked by the Republican-led Legislature, a conservative Supreme Court that has cut ties on issues like the once-a-decade 2022 ruling. The redistricting process favored using Republican-drawn legislative maps rather than those submitted by Evers. The decision ensured a solid Republican majority in the state legislature.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays an important role in determining how the 2024 election is conducted and in resolving disputes that arise.
The court played a key role in the outcome of the 2020 election in Wisconsin: The justices voted 4-3, with conservative Brian Hagedorn joining the court’s three liberals, to reject former President Donald Trump’s efforts to throw votes in Democratic-leaning districts. And last year, the court banned the use of most ballot boxes and ruled that no one can return a ballot in person on behalf of another voter.
But the most immediate battle that could reach the justices before this fall is over Wisconsin’s 1849 law that bans abortion in almost all circumstances.
Groups on both sides of the abortion divide have invested heavily in the race to try to rally voters ahead of Tuesday’s election.
While both candidates declined to say how they would govern on the issue, they were in no doubt about their leanings.
In a debate last month, Protasiewicz said he was “making no promises” about how he would govern. But he noted his personal support for abortion rights and endorsements from pro-abortion rights groups. He pointed to Kelly’s endorsement by Wisconsin Right to Life, which opposes abortion rights.
“If my opponent is elected, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the 1849 abortion ban will be on the books. I can tell you that,” Protasiewicz said.
Kelly, who has done legal work for Wisconsin Right to Life, pushed back, saying Protasiewicz’s comments were “absolutely not true.”
“You don’t know what I think about that abortion ban,” he said. “You know nothing. You don’t know these things.”