Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell announced Wednesday his plans to run next April for the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat currently held by a departing conservative justice.
Mitchell joins Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz in the upcoming election to fill the seat currently held by conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, who is not seeking another 10-year term on the state’s seven-member high court. With conservatives holding a narrow 4-3 majority, the April election could shift the court’s power dynamic.
Mitchell, who is Black, said in a statement he is running because “preserving the integrity and independence of the court has never been more important.” A former prosecutor, Mitchell serves as the presiding judge of Dane County’s juvenile division and oversees cases involving child welfare, juvenile delinquency, family and civil law and criminal proceedings.
“Our state Justices have a tremendous responsibility, and the decisions handed down by the court directly impact the lives of the people in our state,” he said. “Wisconsinites deserve a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice that reflects the growing diversity of ideas and communities within our state.”
He added that the court needs to be “an instrument of balance and justice rather than partisan divide.”
Mitchell also presides over Dane County’s High Risk Drug Court program, which provides support to adults with drug addictions and criminal cases through connections to treatment and mental health services.
Mitchell said he plans to bring his life experiences and a focus on ethics to the state’s high court. He was the first in his family to attend college and experienced homelessness as a single father.
Mitchell graduated from Morehouse College in 2000, earned a master’s degree in divinity in 2003 and a master’s degree in theology in 2004 from Princeton Theological Seminary, and received a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2010.
Protasiewicz has served as a circuit court judge since 2014 and currently presides in the family court. She previously worked 26 years as an assistant Milwaukee County district attorney.
Protasiewicz announced this week she had received endorsements from more than 170 Wisconsin leaders, including current Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet, Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley and Ed Fallone, associate professor of law at Marquette Law School, who placed third in the 2020 Supreme Court primary with 13% of the vote.
Former conservative state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly is also considering a run next year. Kelly was appointed to the court by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2016. He faced his first election bid in April 2020, losing to former Dane County judge and current state Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky.
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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has supported federal abortion bans in the past and praised the leaked Roe draft opinion but said the matter is best be handled by each state. Still, the Oshkosh Republican's spokesperson, Alexa Henning, would not clarify whether Johnson would support a federal ban.
"The reality is there is no consensus on passing federal legislation, nor will there be without the process first playing out in the states," she said in a statement. "The Senator has always felt that this issue is best decided by the people on a state-by-state basis."
Johnson supported a federal 20-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. He also signed onto the U.S. Supreme Court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization — the case poised to trigger the court overturning Roe — to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. The Mississippi law has exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”
"Roe v. Wade delayed a democratic resolution to the profound moral question of abortion for 50 years," Henning said in a statement.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is the Democratic U.S. Senate frontrunner according to the Marquette Law School Poll, called for nationwide abortion protections and the abolition of the filibuster to achieve that goal.
“I firmly believe in every woman’s right to make decisions about her own body," he said in a statement. "Politicians have no right to put restrictions on that decision."
Barnes said he would vote in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act, the leading effort to codify the right to an abortion nationwide.
The measure would permit abortions any time before fetal viability and after viability as long as the pregnancy could pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health.
Milwaukee Bucks executive-on-leave Alex Lasry also said he supports Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin's Women's Health Protection Act.
Speaking from the U.S. Supreme Court the night the majority draft opinion came out, Lasry warned such a decision would lead to an almost complete abortion ban in Wisconsin.
Polling second in the Democratic Senate primary according to the Marquette poll, Lasry said he supports the proposal that guarantees "a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion — and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services — free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship."
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, the only female top-tier Senate candidate, campaigned on codifying Roe before the leaked draft opinion made national headlines.
She "opposes abortion restrictions that endanger or punish women," Godlewski spokesperson Sarah Abel said in a statement. She has also expressed support for the Women's Health Protection Act.
After the leak, Godlewski expressed frustration at Democrats' fruitless attempts to codify Roe and ran an ad blasting Johnson for supporting reversing a case that guaranteed abortion protections nationwide for nearly 50 years.
"Sarah believes these personal and complicated decisions should be left to women and their doctors," Abel said.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said he would vote to eliminate the filibuster and codify Roe if he were a U.S. senator after Politico broke the news about the leaked draft.
"A woman's right to choose is absolute. I trust women to make their own medical decisions," the Democratic Senate candidate said in a statement. "I have a 100% NARAL and Planned Parenthood voting record over three terms (2005-11) in the state Assembly — no one else in the field can match that."
Saying reproductive rights were on the ballot in November, Nelson also said he favors expanding the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservative justices currently hold a 6-3 majority on the court.
After the leak, Nelson said, "The Supreme Court has shown their hand. Senator Chuck Schumer must call a special session to blow up the filibuster and codify Roe now.”
Gov. Tony Evers
Soon after the Roe leak made national headlines, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers led a coalition of 17 governors across the country calling on Congress to pass Baldwin's Women’s Health Protection Act.
Still on the books but unenforceable since Roe, a resumption of the state ban would swamp Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to stand as a bulwark between the Republican-controlled Legislature and a full-fledged abortion ban.
Still, he said he "will fight every day" for access to abortion and reproductive rights as long as he is governor.
Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, whom the Marquette poll shows is the clear Republican frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, said she supports Wisconsin's law that bans abortion in almost every instance except for when the mother's life is at risk.
Asked during a Fox6 interview whether she would support additional exceptions for rape and incest, Kleefisch said she wouldn't because she doesn't "think it’s the baby’s fault how the baby is conceived."
She also said she hoped and prayed for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe. In the past, Kleefisch said she would support a bill banning abortions after doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat.
Kevin Nicholson debate
Management consultant and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson has called himself "100% pro-life" and said he prays Roe gets overturned.
While he once supported abortion rights, Nicholson said in a survey that he would ban abortions in all cases.
"I’m honored to be the only candidate for governor endorsed by both Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action PAC," he said in a statement.
As governor, Nicholson said he would "(end) state funding of Planned Parenthood and (support) existing pregnancy resource centers around our state."
State Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, who is running for governor, also has called himself "100% pro-life."
Ramthun and Nicholson are the only two gubernatorial candidates endorsed by Pro-Life Wisconsin, a group that opposes abortion ban exceptions for rape, incest or the life and health of the mother.
He also voted against a package of anti-abortion legislation because they contained exceptions for when abortion would be permitted.
"A child should never suffer for the sins of their mothers or fathers, and all life is sacred," he said in a statement.