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Former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly launches new bid for state's high court

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Former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly will again be seeking a seat on the state’s high court next year, marking the first conservative-backed candidate to formally declare candidacy in the upcoming election.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 but lost his election bid in April 2020, announced on Thursday his plans to run for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a statement first reported by

“I am incredibly grateful to those all over the state who have encouraged me to run,” Kelly said. “They know the importance of electing a justice with a track record of protecting our Constitution, faithfully applying the law as written, and respecting the people of Wisconsin as his bosses.”

Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, though Justice Brian Hagedorn has served as a swing vote at times on the seven-member court. Conservative Justice Patience Roggensack will not seek another term in April, meaning the court’s power dynamic could shift next year.

“If an activist were to win next April, Wisconsin’s public policy would be imposed by four lawyers sitting in Madison instead of being adopted through our constitutional processes,” Kelly said. “I won’t let that happen on my watch.”

While state Supreme Court races are nominally nonpartisan, they are run in an intensely partisan fashion, with political parties and outside groups spending large sums to back their preferred candidates.

Two liberal-backed candidates, Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz, are also running for the seat.

“Dan Kelly is a reckless and failed Trump-Walker politician who would use the Court for conservative activism, ignoring the will of Wisconsin voters to turn back the clock on our state,” Mitchell’s campaign manager Sean Elliott said in a statement.

Protasieqicz’s campaign manager Alejandro Verdin issued a statement welcoming Kelly to the race. He described Kelly as a “right-wing extremist with views about the law far out of the mainstream, and he is running to serve a partisan political agenda rather than provide equal justice under the law.”

Mitchell presides over Dane County’s High Risk Drug Court program, which provides support to adults with drug addictions and criminal charges through connections to treatment and mental health services, while Protasiewicz has served as a circuit court judge since 2014 and currently presides in the family court. She previously worked for 26 years as an assistant Milwaukee County district attorney.

Kelly served about four years on the state Supreme Court before he lost to former Dane County judge and current state Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky in April 2020 in an election that garnered national attention.