Open Supreme Court Seat Attracts Four Candidates

The 2023 spring election will feature a statewide race for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justice Patience Roggensack is retiring after 20 years on the state’s highest court. First elected in 2003 and reelected in 2013, Justice Roggensack also served as chief justice from 2015 to 2021.

This race has implications for the philosophical makeup of the court. Currently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has three liberal justices and four conservatives, including retiring Justice Roggensack. Justice Brian Hagedorn has acted as a “swing” vote on some issues, joining with the court’s liberal wing in a series of 4-3 decisions on issues such as redistricting and the public release of businesses’ COVID-19 data.

Four candidates have entered the race thus far. The top two vote-getters in the February 21 primary will square off in the general election on April 4. Wisconsin has not seen a four-way primary for supreme court since 2011. Wisconsin Supreme Court elections are officially nonpartisan, and justices are elected to serve staggered 10-year terms. Spring elections in Wisconsin include many nonpartisan and local elective offices such as judges, mayors, and school boards.

Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow announced her candidacy on November 30. Judge Dorow was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Scott Walker (R) in 2011 and reelected in 2012 and 2018. She has served as a chief judge since 2017, overseeing administrative, financial, and personnel matters for the circuit courts in the third district. Previously, Judge Dorow worked as an assistant district attorney for Waukesha County and as a criminal defense attorney. She gained national publicity this year as the presiding judge in the trial of the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade attack.

Former Justice Daniel Kelly announced his candidacy on September 8. Kelly was appointed by Gov. Walker in 2016 to serve the remainder of a retiring justice’s term. He lost his reelection bid to Justice Jill Karofsky in 2020. Kelly has received the endorsements of Justice Rebecca Bradley and appellate court Judge Shelley Grogan.

Fair Courts America, a conservative political action committee supported by businessman and Republican donor Dick Uihlein, has also endorsed Kelly. According to a statement from the group, “Fair Courts America is committed to spending millions of dollars to help educate voters in support of” Kelly. Earlier this year, the organization spent $250,000 supporting Maria Lazar’s successful run for the District II Court of Appeals.

Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell announced his candidacy on June 1. He currently serves as presiding judge of the county court’s juvenile division and is the senior pastor at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church. Judge Mitchell first won election in 2016 and was reelected in 2022. Before that, he was an assistant district attorney in Dane County and worked as the director of community relations for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Judge Mitchell has been endorsed by former Gov. Jim Doyle (D), Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett and County Executive Joe Parisi, and Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes.

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz announced her candidacy on May 25. Judge Protasiewicz was first elected to the bench in 2014 and reelected in 2020. Previously, she worked as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County for 26 years. Judge Protasiewicz has been endorsed by Justice Rebecca Dallet and a number of Milwaukee-area judges and elected officials.

Links to candidate campaign websites: