Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly spoke to the College Republicans of UW-Madison and the Republican Party of Dane County on Wednesday night ahead of Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election.
Wisconsin’s high-stakes Supreme Court election has attracted national attention and record-breaking fundraising. Although conservatives hold a current 4-3 majority on the court, conservative Justice Patience Roggensack’s retirement means the winner of Tuesday’s election will determine the court’s majority ahead of potential future rulings on abortion rights, election laws and voting maps.
Kelly told students Wednesday he is campaigning to be the “most boring” justice the state Supreme Court has seen. He said the court has an important duty to decide current cases by observing how existing law decided previous cases, a view he thought was more measured than his opponent.
“If the left captures this seat, they intend to completely transform the state of Wisconsin,” Kelly said.
Throughout the event, Kelly referenced his liberal opponent, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Kelly said one of his main goals as a Supreme Court justice is to uphold the constitution and the rule of law, which he said Protasiewicz would not do.
“Will we continue with the rule of law, or will we trade that in for the rule of Janet?” Kelly said.
Kelly recalled three cases Protasiewicz heard as Milwaukee County Judge as evidence for his claim. He expressed his disagreement with her decisions, particularly regarding prison sentence lengths for accused people.
“She’s made it abundantly clear that, if elected, she will place herself above the law,” Kelly said.
Kelly went on to accuse Protasiewicz of being a ”serial liar,” willing to say or do anything she thinks is necessary to win the court seat. He told the audience Protasiewicz would decide which liberties the people of Wisconsin will get to enjoy and which liberties they will not, referencing “the rule of Janet.”
Kelly also accused Protasiewicz of lying in ads about him and his family, adding his skin is not as thick as he makes it seem at times.
“She just sits down one day and says, ‘What can I say about Justice Kelly that will be harmful?’” Kelly claimed. “The truth is this: she’s a serial liar.”
Protasiewicz and others challenge pro-Kelly claims
Protasiewicz made similar accusations of lying and deception against Kelly in previous campaign statements.
For example, Kelly recalled a case involving rape and incest that Protasiewicz presided over. He claimed Protasiewicz heard testimony from the victim, detailing lost friends and fear of returning to work after experiencing sexual trauma, only to respond by giving the accused person a light sentence.
“Her sentence was a year and two months in prison, and that was all,” Kelly said at Wednesday’s event.
The political arm of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has run pro-Kelly campaign advertisements attacking Protasiewicz for her decisions in the case. But in a letter Thursday, Protasiewicz’s lawyers said the information in Kelly’s campaign advertisement is false and demanded WMC pull the ad.
“Judge Protasiewicz did not ignore or fail the victim,” Protasiewicz’s lawyers wrote. “In fact, the victim requested that the court remove its no-contact order for the purpose of restorative justice, with which Judge Protasiewicz complied.”
The victim from the case said WMC’s advertisement was “traumatizing and inaccurate,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Journal Sentinel reported WMC would pull the controversial ad and run older pro-Kelly ads in its place on Friday.
Still, Brandon Maly, chairman of the Dane County GOP, expressed the importance of the upcoming election — particularly when it comes to issues of transgender sports participation in Wisconsin — when introducing Kelly on Wednesday.
“This election can literally mean the difference between boys’ versus girls’ sports. Boys sports being with all boys playing, and then girls sports being with boys dominating,” Maly said.
Kelly weighs in on gun debate
When asked whether or not he thinks there will be any changes to gun laws following a Nashville school shooting that left six dead on Monday, Kelly said he was open to seeing changes in gun laws if that’s what lawmakers decide to do. He referred to the shooting in Nashville as “a travesty.”
However, he added any changes would need to go through the Wisconsin Legislature and would only go to the state Supreme Court if constitutionality is questioned.
“If it's consistent with the constitution, then we use that statute to decide the case,” said Kelly.
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has taken up cases on the Second Amendment before and could potentially focus on again if constitutionality surrounding existing law comes into question. In May 2022, the court ruled people with misdemeanor disorderly conduct convictions could obtain concealed carry permits, even if the conviction was for an incident of domestic violence, according to Wisconsin Watch.
Near the end of his speech, Kelly urged the audience to vote in the upcoming state Supreme Court election and to remember him, his wife and his children during the final days before the election.
Kelly told the audience he comes from a “pugilistic people” — the Irish. Kelly said the Irish are known for fighting and drinking, and he connected that idea to what he has experienced throughout his campaign as well as his commitment to follow through until election night.
“I get to go around the state of Wisconsin. I get to mix it up with the activist arguments every single day in this campaign, and I love doing that,” Kelly said. “That’s an outlet for me.”
Voters will elect either Kelly or Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s open seat this Tuesday, April 4.