MILWAUKEE — Next week, Wisconsinites will head to the polls to cast their ballot in a primary election to narrow down the field of candidates running for state Supreme Court.

While the race is technically nonpartisan, two conservative and two liberal-leaning candidates are in the mix as the retirement of Justice Patience Roggensack, a conservative, will leave the ideological balance of the court up for grabs in April.

Daniel Kelly is among the four candidates vying for the position. Previously, he was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 2016 to 2020 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice David Prosser.

In 2020, Kelly, a conservative, ran for a full 10-year term on the state’s high court but ultimately lost to Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky after groups from both sides of the aisle poured millions into the race.

Spectrum News 1 Political Reporter Anthony DaBruzzi recently sat down for a one-on-one interview with Kelly to learn more about his candidacy.


Why are you running for Supreme Court again?

Kelly: I think it is a factor of two things. The first is after, during my service on the Supreme Court, I found that to be the highest professional honor that I have ever experienced in my career. It was a delight to serve the people of Wisconsin in that capacity, and that kind of goes into the second element. So, I understood that, as I was on the court, I was exercising borrowed authority. That authority did not belong to me, didn't belong even to the office. It belongs to people of Wisconsin. And so, they simply loan it to us through their Constitution to exercise on their behalf. And so, every day I was on the court, I was serving the people of Wisconsin, and I found them to be the most outstanding bosses a guy could have.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, left, stands next to his wife Elisa, Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn and retired Justice David Prosser to announce his plans to run for a full 10-year term next year on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Despite your beliefs, why should Wisconsinites trust you to remain impartial?

Kelly: I think that is really going to be the key question in this race. And I think the answer is that what you will do is best exemplified by what you've already done. And so, I've already served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for several years, and people can go and look at the body of work that I have created over those years, and what they'll see there is that I've developed a methodology that guarantees that the results that we come to are the command that the law requires, rather than what any individual would personally desire. So, the methodology looks like this. So, we start with the law that applies to that case. Those are the premises. And then, we use rigorous logic to move from those premises all the way down to the conclusion. And when you're done, you should be able to look back and see an unbroken chain of logic connecting the conclusions to those premises. That's the way that I've approached it while I was on the court, and I'll do the exact same thing if the people of Wisconsin return me.

How would you approach abortion rights if a case comes before the court?

Kelly: The key to this methodology is it is applicable to every case. So, my approach on that question will be the exact same approach that I've applied to every other question that comes before the court or will ever come before the court because our responsibility as jurists is the same every single day. It is to apply the law as it's written, not as we wish it to be, but as it's actually written, and then come to the conclusion that the law commands, and this is critically important. This has to do with faithfulness to the Constitution and ultimately, faithfulness to the people of Wisconsin.

If there's a new law that we need, we'll ask our legislators to adopt the new law, and so [Wisconsinites] say just that one thing, to decide our cases according to the law, and do that in every single case that comes before the court.

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly speaks to a crowd of supporters during a weekend campaign event. (Chad Doran/Daniel Kelly for Supreme Court)

In your opinion, what factors should voters weigh before they cast their ballot?

Kelly: I think they should keep in mind that their Constitution is the preservation of their liberties. If we walk away from that, if we ever allow the Constitution to fall, our liberties, all of them, will be in jeopardy.


The primary election will be Tuesday, Feb. 21, after which the two candidates with the most votes will advance to the April 4 general election. Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow is also running as a conservative, while Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell are backed by liberal groups.