Members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College Democrats welcomed current Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky to campus Monday evening to launch their final canvassing event prior to Election Day.
The ballot for Tuesday’s election includes local common council races, Madison’s mayoral race and multiple statewide referendums. But the race receiving record-breaking amounts of national attention and fundraising is Wisconsin's Supreme Court election, with liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and conservative former Justice Daniel Kelly vying for an open seat on the court.
The court’s ideological balance currently sits at a 4-3 conservative majority. However, with conservative Justice Patience Roggensack’s retirement, a Protasiewicz win could usher in the court’s first liberal majority since conservative former Justice Michael Gableman was elected in 2008.
Protasiewicz was originally scheduled to speak Monday evening but backed out due to illness, according to Kevin Jacobson, chair of College Democrats. Karofsky spoke in her place.
In her speech ahead of the canvassing event, Karofsky said gerrymandering and abortion rights were some of the most pressing issues at stake in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election and highlighted the importance of student voices in this election.
She called Tuesday’s election a “once in a generation opportunity” to change the court’s ideological balance, noting justices' 10-year terms and constitutional limits on election frequency result in extensive time periods with no change in the court’s ideological balance.
“The conservatives on this court are responsible for the most rigged maps in the country,” Karofsky said.
Protasiewicz previously shared her opposition to Wisconsin’s Republican-leaning voting district maps, indicating she would “enjoy taking a fresh look” at the issue in an interview with the Cap Times last month.
Protasiewicz has been outspoken on other issues such as abortion, where she’s taken a pro-abortion rights stance.
“If [Dan Kelly] gets an abortion case in his hands, we all know what he is going to do,” Karofsky said in her speech. “I cannot imagine any pregnant person in this state wanting to make a healthcare decision like that for them.”
Karofsky recalled other past Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions in her speech supporting Protasiewicz. She said conservatives on the court struck down COVID-19 mask mandates and forced people to “choose between exercising their right to vote and keeping themselves or their families safe” during her Supreme Court election in April 2020.
Additionally, Karofsky lambasted current conservative Justices Rebecca Bradley, Annette Ziegler and Roggensack for dissenting against the court’s 4-3 decision to reject a legal challenge from Donald Trump following the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s lawsuit asked the court to throw out 220,000 votes cast in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
“There are three members of this court who drank so much of Donald Trump’s big lie Kool-Aid that they tried to throw out almost a quarter of a million votes,” Karofsky said.
Student voters at UW-Madison have been showing up in large numbers to the polls in recent elections. Total student votes cast in last fall’s midterm elections for governor and U.S. Senate rose approximately 30% compared to 2018, and campus voting wards averaged just shy of 60% estimated registered voter turnout, per state elections data.
Karofsky wanted to keep that momentum going.
“Everything [students] care about is on the line,” said Karofsky. “Abortion, fair maps, the 2024 election — democracy is on the line.”