Liberal Karofsky wins Wisconsin Supreme Court seat

Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly (Source: Dane...
Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly (Source: Dane County, State of Wisconsin)(NBC15)
Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 3:23 PM CDT
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Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky defeated conservative Justice Dan Kelly to win a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in results released Monday from last week’s chaotic spring election.

The race was officially nonpartisan, but the high court has become heavily politicized in recent years. Liberal groups poured more than $2.4 million into the race for Karofsky, while conservatives spent more than $2.5 million for Kelly — who also drew President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

Karofsky’s victory narrows the court’s conservative majority to 4-3 and gives liberals a shot at seizing control when the next seat comes open in 2023.

Karofsky spent most of the campaign on the offensive, accusing Kelly repeatedly of being corrupt for consistently siding with conservative groups that come before the court. Kelly accused Karofsky of slandering him, and the court’s other conservatives questioned her ethics.

Wisconsin was the only state with an April election that didn’t postpone it to protect voters and poll workers from the coronavirus. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued a last-minute order on April 6 postponing in-person voting to June but the state Supreme Court struck the order down within hours. Kelly recused himself from that decision because he was running.

The election went on as planned on April 7. But the shifting deadlines forced many voters to decide between sitting the election out or venturing to the polls to cast their ballots in-person and risk contracting the virus.

Karofsky tweeted the following statement:

"I want to send a heartfelt thank you to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who made their voice heard in this unprecedented election.  I'm honored to have earned the trust of people across this state who believe in a tough, fair, and independent judiciary and I promise to never forget these principles as their Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice," said Karofsky.

"I also want to thank my family, including my two kids, my parents, my siblings, and all my friends and supporters, I especially want to thank my staff for their tireless efforts."

"Although we were successful in this race, the circumstances under which this election was conducted were simply unacceptable, and raise serious concerns for the future of our democracy.  Nobody in this state or in this country should have been forced to choose between their safety and participating in an election.  Too many were unable to have their voices heard because they didn't feel safe leaving their home or their absentee ballots weren't counted.  Wisconsinites showed their resiliency by overcoming many of the barriers created by the legislature and the courts to try and silence voters in this state but nobody should ever be denied their right to vote," Karofsky went on to say.

"Over the past several months I've talked about the need to restore the public's confidence in our judicial system.  With this victory, I look forward to the opportunity to show, with my actions on the court, that we have a judiciary that is following the rule of the law and applying it fairly to everyone in our state.  Now, more than ever, we need to instill confidence in our institutions and I'm honored to be a part of that," Karofsky concluded.

DNC Chair Tom Perez released the following statement in part:

“In the face of unprecedented voter suppression efforts by Republicans, Judge Karofsky has won the Supreme Court race -- a result that speaks to Democrats’ incredible enthusiasm advantage and should terrify Donald Trump and every other Wisconsin Republican. I know Judge Karofsky will be fair and make decisions based on the rule of law, not a hyper-partisan agenda. Wisconsinites will be well-served with her sound judgement."