After a bitter battle, incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly has lost his bid for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky defeated Kelly Monday in an unusual election that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the office is nonpartisan, Karofsky is backed by Democrats and Kelly is backed by Republicans. Karofsky’s victory narrows the court’s conservative majority from 5-2 to 4-3.
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Surrounded by her son and daughter, Karofsky spoke to supporters in a virtual gathering via teleconference Monday night. She thanked the thousands of voters who braved long lines to vote in-person last week during the pandemic.
“Look, we shouldn’t have had an election on Tuesday and for many, many people, they had to decide whether they were going to risk their own health or the health of people they loved, or their lives or the lives of people that they loved, in order to vote. It was an untenable decision,” Karofsky said.
Karofsky spent much of her campaign accusing Kelly of being “corrupt” for consistently siding with conservative groups that come before the court. She implicated him again in her victory speech, saying she believes her message resonated with voters.
“The people in this state rose up. They fought through that untenable decision and they decided that they want to have Supreme Court justices who make decisions based on what the law is, who are not beholden to special interests, who are not partisan and that’s what they are going to have in Justice Jill Karofsky,” she said.
Karofsky said she plans to reach out to two of the conservative justices on the court, who criticized her for knocking Kelly. She said she believes they can put aside their differences and move forward.
Kelly was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2016. In the months leading up to the election, President Donald Trump endorsed Kelly.
In a statement Monday night, Kelly congratulated Karofsky on her victory and said it’s been “the highest honor" of his career to serve on the Supreme Court for the past four years. He said although he is disappointed, his greatest emotion is gratitude to his family and supporters.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin reacted to Karofsky's win, saying it’s disappointed in “rule of law” Justice Daniel Kelly’s loss. Meanwhile, the party also pointed out in a statement that President Trump had a strong showing in Wisconsin despite no opposition in the GOP primary. Chairman Andrew Hitt says the party looks forward to supporting Trump’s reelection in November.