Janet Protasiewicz and Wisconsin Supreme Court expectations

Supporters attending the swearing-in of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz share thoughts on what they hope to see from the new liberal majority after 15 years of conservative control.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

August 3, 2023

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Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April in the most expensive court race in our nation’s history. Her 10-year term on the court started Aug. 1 with a ceremonial investiture at the State Capitol. The new justice’s supporters have high expectations for the new liberal majority on the court.

“…and will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office to the best of my ability,” said Janet Protasiewicz as she took the oath of office to join the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the Capitol rotunda.

In her speech, Protasiewicz said all the things an impartial justice should say.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s execution of our duties without favor to special interests, political pressure or our own personal beliefs is vital to giving the people of our state trust and confidence in our judicial system,” she said.

But everyone in the crowd of friends and colleagues understood her investiture means the court will now have a liberal majority, after 15 years of conservatives controlling it.

“How wonderful, what an amazing day,” said Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who has served on the court for 28 years and hinted at changes to come, like opening up the judicial process to more transparency.

“Our challenge — the challenge of the seven justices, all of us on the Supreme Court — is to work to enhance the public trust and confidence of the people in the judiciary and return this court to the national reputation that it once enjoyed,” she said.

Protasiewicz campaigned by talking about her values on issues like abortion and gerrymandering, but has not referenced those topics by name since her election in April.

“The issues that will come before this court are complex. Many of them deal with our most basic rights that are outlined in our constitution. Decisions that this court will be making will impact some of the most important aspects of our daily lives,” she said.

As Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Supreme Court elections have become more partisan, voters have started expecting partisan results from their candidates.

Conservatives have been angry with Justice Brian Hagedorn for years because he occasionally sides with the liberals on the court. What do Protasiewicz’s supporters expect of her on the court?

“We expect it to be liberal now and for women’s rights also. And she’s fair, so we expect fairness,” said Brenda Ashley, a former colleague and friend.

“I think that she’ll be able to really uphold her ideals that she ran with, as was stated in her campaign, because she sticks to her morals,” said Natalie Guimont, who interned with Protasiewicz in circuit court.

Chris Taylor is a former Democratic legislator and is now a Wisconsin Court of Appeals judge.

“She has certain values that she holds, that she talked about, that are shared by the people of the state of Wisconsin. I think she’s going to bring those values to the bench without prejudging what’s before her. But the big message, I think, is about fairness and giving every person a chance to get the justice they need from the state Supreme Court,” Taylor said.

Protasiewicz directed one portion of her speech to her colleagues, but the message applied to all her supporters.

“I’m ready to get to work,” declared the new justice, “and I’m ready to deliver justice and common sense as a member of this court.”

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