dan kelly

Gov. Scott Walker appointed attorney Dan Kelly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2016 to fill the vacancy left by retiring Justice David Prosser.

Justice Daniel Kelly officially announced Tuesday he’s planning to run for a full term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court next year, a bid he says will focus on the role of the court and his faithfulness to the Constitution.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 to replace former Justice David Prosser following his retirement, is part of the current 4-3 conservative majority, which will grow to 5-2 come August.

While his race won’t dictate control of the court, Kelly told reporters the election is “about the direction of the court” — and would be an opportunity to show voters “a very stark contrast between the way I approach the role of the court and the Constitution and those that will be running against me.”

He added his campaign would be a “continuation of the conversation” he started when he joined the bench three years ago, in which he would ask voters to compare his work over that period to their expectations of what a state Supreme Court justice should be.

“And if they find me to be a satisfactory servant, I will ask them to join me in spreading this conversation all over the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

Kelly previously drew fire for likening affirmative action to slavery in a 2014 book chapter he included in his application to fill Prosser’s seat. In it, he wrote that while the two differ, “morally, and as a matter of law, they are the same.”

Asked about the writings, Kelly said it’s “beyond my authority” as a justice and on the campaign trail to comment on matters of public policy. 

Kelly was joined Tuesday in the Capitol by fellow conservatives Prosser, Justice Rebecca Bradley and Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn, who in April beat fellow appeals court Judge Lisa Neubauer for a spot on the court.

Bradley praised Kelly, who formerly worked as an adviser for her 2016 campaign, for his “outstanding work ethic and judicial temperament.”

Meanwhile, One Wisconsin Now Research Director Joanna Beilman-Dulin slammed Kelly for being "as right-wing as you get." 

"At no point in his career has Dan Kelly has shown the ability or the inclination to be anything other than an extreme right-wing partisan," she said. 

Kelly previously worked at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren in Milwaukee and served as the general counsel and vice president of the Kern Family Foundation, a conservative philanthropic group. He has also been president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society. 

Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky, a former deputy district attorney for the county, officially filed to run for the seat last week. Marquette University Law School professor Ed Fallone, who ran for the high court in 2013, said in March he will also launch a bid.

Karofsky wrote in a tweet she welcomed Kelly to the race, adding: “We will have a spirited and important conversation about our experience in the law and our view of the law.”

Fallone in a statement said merit and integrity rather than political connections "are what qualify a person for a seat on our State's highest court, and I believe that the voters of Wisconsin agree with me."

The primary is Feb. 18, while the general is April 7, the same day voters will weigh in on the Democratic presidential primary. 

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