Wisconsin Supreme Court Election: What to Watch
Last updated: 3.28.2023
On April 4, voters will choose a new Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. That person will serve a ten-year term and will help issues affecting the lives of Wisconsin families and communities—including questions central to our free, fair, and safe elections. The Wisconsin Supreme Court plays an integral part in upholding state laws and the constitution. The election winner will be officially sworn in and will join six other justices on the bench.
In states including Wisconsin, the courts have made major decisions on issues directly affecting almost every aspect of our democracy—who votes, where they vote, when they vote, who or what they vote for. Everything from absentee ballot procedure, to redistricting, to ballot delivery locations have reached the court and similar questions may be decided in the future. During a time when lies and conspiracy theories continue to threaten public safety and our free and fair elections, it’s more important than ever to understand the role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays in our democracy.
States United Democracy Center and Law Forward are both nonpartisan organizations that work to ensure our elections are free, fair, safe, and accurate. In order to help voters understand the important role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the upcoming election, here is a quick guide:
- The Wisconsin Supreme Court is critical for safeguarding democracy in Wisconsin. When it comes to voting rights and administering free, fair, and secure elections, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on pivotal cases in recent years. For example, the court overturned decades of precedent to determine that the law bans voters from asking someone else to help deliver absentee ballots to their local clerk, which was a critical safeguard for voters with disabilities. (A federal court quickly clarified that voters with disabilities retain the right to ballot return assistance.) Additionally, the court made it illegal for any voter to use a secure absentee ballot drop box. The court also decided the legislative and congressional districts that determine so much about the politics in our state. The court will continue to play an important role in determining and creating law around our elections.
- If you care about maintaining safe, legal, accessible voting, knowing about the State Supreme Court is critical. Decisions by the Wisconsin Supreme Court impact where, when, and how Wisconsinites can vote. Hearing dozens of cases each year, the newly seated justice will have a significant impact over their ten years on the bench—including potentially presiding over any disputes regarding the presidential and statewide elections in 2024, 2026, and 2028.
- State Supreme Court races are drawing more national attention and money from special interest groups. In Wisconsin, the State Supreme Court race is seeing a record-breaking amount of money being spent on the race. As of this week, there has been over $20 million spent in this race.
- Election denial and lies about our democracy are front and center in the courts. In 2020 and 2022, Wisconsin was in the top five states for the quantity of litigation brought regarding voting and elections. Following 2020, Donald Trump sued in state and federal court, John Eastman tried to persuade the legislature they could overturn the election, Sidney Powell brought her “Kraken” litigation against the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Governor Evers to overturn the election, and there were fake electors across the state, one of whom is a member of the WEC. Election conspiracy theorists in Wisconsin continue to bring frivolous lawsuits and bombard local election officials.
It is critical that state supreme court justices—no matter what their political affiliation or background—are committed to respecting the will of the people and safeguarding free and fair elections.
Remember, election workers are well prepared to ensure proceedings go smoothly. State and local election officials are trusted, meticulously trained professionals who have been preparing for months to make sure the April election is safe, orderly, and secure. Poll workers are members of our communities who come from all walks of life and all political backgrounds. Safety for poll workers and voters is top of mind as states and local jurisdictions take poll worker security seriously.
- Law Forward: Deconstructing Democracy: The Wisconsin Supreme Court 2021-22
- Democracy Docket: 2022 Litigation Report: How Republicans Lost and Voters Won in Court
- The Conversation: State courts are fielding sky-high numbers of lawsuits ahead of the midterms – including challenges to voting restrictions and to how elections are run
- MIT: Post-Election Litigation Analysis and Summaries
- The Guardian: Election-denying donors pour millions into key Wisconsin supreme court race
- Trump v. Biden (Attempt to overturn 2020 election results)
- Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (Imposed gerrymandered maps)
- Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (Created barriers to absentee voting)
- State ex rel. Kaul v. Prehn (Lessened governor’s ability to direct administrative agencies)
- Becker v. Dane County (Challenge to local health authority)
- Waity v. LeMahieu (Allowed legislature to hire private attorneys to defend gerrymander)
- SEIU v. Vos (Upheld a series of lame duck laws that undermined the authority of a democratically elected governor and attorney general)