MILWAUKEE — One week from Tuesday, Wisconsinites will head to the polls to cast their vote in a hotly contested primary for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The race is technically nonpartisan, so regardless of party, only the top two candidates will advance to the April 4 general election.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz is one of four candidates vying for a 10-year term on the state’s high court.

Protasiewicz, who has earned the support of several Democrats, has spent nearly a decade as a circuit court judge. Prior to her election to the bench, she spent more than 25 years as an assistant district attorney.

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


Why are you running for state Supreme Court?

Protasiewicz: Well, it's a long, hard decision because it's, you know, the stakes are so high and running a yearlong campaign, you know, is daunting. But there really are some basic reasons. I wanted to bring change and common-sense back to our Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court is very, very partisan, and it shouldn't be that way. Justices should be making their decisions based on the Constitution and based on the law. There shouldn't be a thumb on the scale one way or another when a person comes into the Supreme Court.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz. (Janet for Justice)

How can Wisconsinites trust you to remain impartial despite your beliefs?

Protasiewicz: Well, I have a long history of working with the public and serving the public. That's all I’ve done my entire life. It's all I wanted to do. I was very rooted in our community. You know, I was raised by two teachers who taught me that you know, you need to work hard. You need to give back to your community, and you need to get a good education. So, when I finished law school, I went, and I was honored to be appointed as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County and serve the public, and I served the public there honorably and with great integrity for 25 years, and I've been on the bench for almost the last 10 years doing the exact same thing. I've taught at Marquette Law School. I've done trainings for the Department of Justice, and I think that people should know, when people who know me know that I have a lot of integrity. I want to be fair, and I want to follow the law and serve the people of the state of Wisconsin to the best of my ability.

What do you say to voters who are concerned you have taken too partisan of stances on some issues?

Judge Janet Protasiewicz stands in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. (Janet for Justice)

Protasiewicz: That's a really good question, and I really want the public to understand what my answer to that is. I believe, you know, there are four of us who are running for the state Supreme Court. I think the public should know what our values are. They should absolutely know what we care about and what we think about some of the major, major issues that are likely to come in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That being said, I will always uphold the Constitution. I will always follow the law, and I will never let my personal views or opinions cloud how I will, you know, ultimately, rule on a case.

If a case involving abortion rights comes before the Supreme Court, how would you approach the issue?

Protasiewicz: If one of the two conservatives, who are running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, prevail on April 4, that case isn’t going to come in front of the Supreme Court, and if it does, it is not going to change. The 1849 ban is going to stay in place. That, I am absolutely certain of.

Judge Janet Protasiewicz stops for a conversation in the halls of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. (Janet for Justice)

So, it's going depend [on] who brings the litigation, how the litigation is framed, what the issues are, what the constitutional concerns are, it's going to concern all of that, and then it will come before the Supreme Court and, at that point, the Supreme Court will make a decision. So, it's not there yet. I don't know who's going to bring it, you know, it's something that I think is likely to be brought before the Supreme Court in the event that we prevail and have this four-to-three majority going forward come April.

What’s at stake for Wisconsinites with this race?

Protasiewicz: Everything's at stake. So, issues that people care about are clearly at stake, but really bringing common sense back to our Supreme Court, bringing change back to our Supreme Court, getting rid of the extremism, getting rid of the partisanship. Those are so, so critical. Those issues are so critical. People need to look up to their Supreme Court. Their Supreme Court is supposed to be a bastion of integrity. You're supposed to be able to go in and get a fair shot no matter who you are. You aren't supposed to be beholden to special interests, so it's really bringing back change and common sense to our court.


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. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell is also backed by liberals, while former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow are running as conservatives.