On February 18th, Wisconsin will vote in a nonpartisan primary for which two State Supreme Court Candidates will be on the ballot in April. This is supposed to be a nonpartisan way of selecting State Supreme Court Justices, as opposed to other states where they may be partisan races or appointed positions.
Despite this nonpartisan aspiration, Wisconsin Supreme Court elections are typically described as partisan because of the political involvement they entail and the philosophies that justices embody.
Justices are typically categorized as being liberal or conservative, but there is much more that comprises their judicial philosophies and their intepretation of the law. For example, some justices can be classified as having an activist philiosophy. Although many associate this strictly with liberal justices, conservative justices can have this activist philosophy as well. It really depends on their interpretation of laws and their views on the power of the Court to create change.
Here are some links to some different types of judicial philosophies for you to learn more about them:
Why state Supreme Court elections matter
- The Wisconsin State Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. The Court has appellate jurisdiction over all Wisconsin courts and has discretion to determine which appeals it will hear. They may also hear original actions, which are cases that have not been heard in a lower court. The scope of what the Court does to uphold the law in Wisconsin is vast, so it is important to consider who we put in these roles.
- The Court is not a lawmaking body, but its job is to ensure that there is independent, open, fair and efficient resolution of disputes in accordance with the federal and state constitutions and laws. So, although they do not make laws, they have a great amount of power at times with their decisions about the meaning and status of laws.
- It is a privilege that we as voters are able to choose our own justices as opposed to a system where they are appointed. This means that we as voters have the power to make the Court as impartial and nonpartisan as possible.
- Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justices serve 10-year terms. That means that the candidate we elect in April will be in office until the year 2030.
Current Composition of the Court
Although it is a “nonpartisan” entity, the Court is currently comprised of 5 conservative justices and 2 liberal justices. This means that if Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative Justice appointed by former Governor Scott Walker, wins, the Court will remain split 5-2 with conservatives in the majority. If a liberal candidate, either Karofsky or Fallone, would win in April though, this would shift the Court to a more balanced 4-3.
It is important to note that although Justices may claim to be impartial, it is very easy to tell whether they are conservative or liberal, as they are endorsed by political parties, special interest groups, and politicians.
In this current race, the incumbent Supreme Court Justice candidate is conservative Daniel Kelly, and he is being challenged by liberal candidates Jill Karofsky and Edward Fallone. This election will likely decide whether it will be Karofsky or Fallone running against Kelly in the April election.
If you would like to learn more about the candidates’ priorities and judicial philosophies, these resources will make you a more informed voter. The Ballotpedia pages will be especially helpful, as Ballotpedia is a trusted, nonpartisan resource for information about elections and government officials across the country.
Ballotpedia Candidate Profiles