Conservative Justice Daniel Kelly and liberal challenger Judge Jill Karofsky haven’t shied away from trading barbs in their race for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In contentious debates ahead of last month’s primary election through the first weeks of March, the two have established clear lanes for themselves as they prepare for an Election Day that coincides with the 2020 Democratic presidential primary contest.
Consistently at issue in the race has been perception of the conservative-dominated court, with Karofsky repeatedly attacking Kelly for appearing corrupt and consistently ruling in favor of conservative interests.
But Kelly, touting his judicial philosophy and commitment to interpreting laws as they’re written, has rebuffed the charges by arguing his decisions are based on a chain of “rigorous logic” that’s laid out in his writings.
First appointed to the high court in 2016 by then-Gov. Scott Walker, Kelly in a recent interview said that his is a message that’s resonating with voters because they want justices who “just apply the law.”
“I think at a really basic level, (voters) just get that and they’re concerned about any member of the court that would go beyond that and start legislating from the bench, start changing what the rules are after they’ve already decided … and they know that you just can’t have that in an ordered society,” he said.
But Karofsky, who has highlighted her values and called for getting the court “back on track,” has argued that simply applying the law as it’s written hasn’t occurred at the state Supreme Court level.
“What I hear from people is that what they see on the Supreme Court are justices who do not follow the rule of law, justices who make decisions before anyone walks in the state Supreme Court chamber, justices who are acting like politicians,” she said.
The continual knocks eventually drew the ire of the four other members of the court’s conservative majority last week. Chief Justice Pat Roggensack, in a statement authored with Justice Annette Ziegler, slammed the attacks “on the integrity of the court” without mentioning Karofsky’s name.
Fellow Justices Brian Hagedorn and Rebecca Bradley, in separate comments issued through Kelly’s campaign, called out Karofsky’s “slanderous statements” as “evidence of her lack of fitness for this bench.”
Karofsky, whose interview came before the other justices weighed in last week, said should she be elected, she would prioritize consensus building and work with the others on the court “just like I have worked with colleagues through my entire career.”