WI Supreme Court Quandary

One Conservative's Take on Choosing a Supreme Court Candidate in the Upcoming Primary Election

WI Supreme Court Quandary
The four candidates in the 2023 Supreme Court Primary: Daniel Kelly, Jennifer Dorow, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell. Image courtesy of Isthmus.com

I had a call from a friend this morning, who was asking for my take on the upcoming primary election for the State Supreme Court Seat.  “I’ve been seeing and reading a lot of stuff on Dan Kelly and Jennifer Dorow, and I just don’t know what to think, so I thought I’d call and get your opinion, and see what you thought”, he said.  That lead to an interesting and detailed conversation, after which, I wasn’t sure whether I helped him or not.  I really try hard to not tell people outright how they should vote in a Primary election.  Selecting a candidate at the poll is a deeply personal choice that every individual should make oneself.  In the case of the upcoming, and extremely important Supreme Court Justice race, that choice is critically important, and will set the direction of the State for a long time to come.

Our phone conversation centered around Daniel Kelly and Jennifer Dorow.  For both my friend and I, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell are considered liberal activist candidates, who campaign on the intent of using the position to help “correct” the laws they don’t like, rather than interpreting and applying the law as written by the legislature.  This fact alone runs completely counter to what the role of a Supreme Court Justice is, disqualifies them from receiving support in the election from either of us.

My friend, who lives in the Milwaukee area, made the following observations from his perspective:

In favor of Jennifer Dorow

  • Jennifer Dorow has gained a lot of media attention resulting from the Waukesha Parade killer case
  • The Democrats are spending considerable funds attacking her, but not so much against Daniel Kelly, which leaves the impression Judge Dorow is seen as much more of a threat by the left.
  • Jennifer Dorow publicly states she will support Daniel Kelly if he advances to the general election, but Daniel Kelly refuses to state he will support Dorow if she wins.

Drawbacks to Jennifer Dorow

  • How she would actually act as a Supreme Court Justice is unknown.  She has much the same campaign message as Judge Hagedorn did, and he turned out to be a disappointment to conservatives.

In favor of Daniel Kelly

  • Daniel Kelly is a Constitutional scholar
  • He is a proven Constitutionalist as a Supreme Court Justice, having served in that capacity in the past.

Drawbacks to Daniel Kelly

  • He lost his last election in 2020 to liberal activist judge Jill Karofsky
  • His refusal to publicly endorse Judge Dorow if she wins in the Primary seems selfish and mean spirited

Both candidates publicly acknowledge and embrace their Christian faith.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak in detail with both candidates at a “Meet & Greet” event organized in Polk County in January.  I listened carefully to both candidates’ presentations, and talked with each before and after their presentations.

Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly at a candidate Meet & Greet hosted in Amery, WI at the BrowTine Event Center

Dan spoke quite a bit about the Constitution, and the role of the courts as defined by the founders.  He is very articulate about his understanding that any authority granted to a Supreme Court Justice is on loan from the People, should be stewarded accordingly, and is bestowed on the Justices for the sole purpose of protecting the God given rights of the People as spelled out in the Federal and State Constitutions.  The rationale expressed in his ask for support from the voters can be summarized simply as “You KNOW how I’ll perform on the bench, do you really want to risk another unknown, like Brian Hagedorn was?”  That’s hard logic to counter.

Note:  I have to admit my bias here.  As past St. Croix County Republican Party Chairman, I have a history of hosting a fair number events with then Justice Kelly, and campaigning for him in the last election cycle, which he sadly did not win.  I’ve talked with him numerous times in the past.  He remains absolutely consistent in both his campaign messaging, and his prior opinions from the Supreme Court bench.

My observations about Daniel Kelly:  He is an extremely intelligent, relatively soft-spoken and outwardly humble man who truly loves the law.  He has a deep understanding of the Constitution from the perspective of the founders who wrote it, and that understanding is at the core of his Judicial Philosophy.  Bottom line: He’s a known commodity as a strict Constitutionalist Supreme Court Justice.

Jennifer Dorow

Photo with Judge Dorow at candidate Meet & Greet hosted in Amery, WI

This event was my first, and likely only, opportunity to talk with Judge Dorow unless she makes the cut in the Primary.  I listened closely to her presentation, and talked quite a bit with her one on one afterward.  I found her to be extremely personable and outgoing, with a confidence that’s critical for the success of any political candidate.

Her presentation focused heavily on her qualifications for the position as she sees them, along with lots of detail about her personality, along with that of her husband, who has had an extensive career in law enforcement, and is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security.  We heard about how the Dorows are working on opening an indoor gun range in Waukesha County.   Judge Dorow told us of her extensive legal career, leading up to being elected to the Waukesha County Circuit Court multiple times, serving there for the past 11 years.  She expounded on the fact that the current Supreme Court Justices named her Chief Judge of Third Judicial District and how her peers have selected her as the Chairperson of the State’s Chief Judges.  All impressive credentials. We all witnessed how she handled her courtroom in the Waukesha Parade Killer case.

As she opened her presentation, Jennifer stated “I’ll interpret the and apply law as written, not as I want it to be”, which was nearly identical to what Judge Brian Hagedorn emphatically stated in virtually all of his campaign speeches prior to his successful grass-roots supported Supreme Court win back in 2019.  Beyond that, she really didn’t talk much about her judicial philosophy.  At another campaign stop that same day, Judge Dorow did say she would diligently “respect the Constitutional rights our Federal and State Constitutions endow on every citizen”.

Overall, Jennifer struck me as an excellent candidate with broad appeal to a cross section of people, likely the critical political “middle” voters, and even some liberals.  Combined with the amount of support she’s receiving from the conservative crowd, she has a very real likelihood of being able to carry a statewide general election over the goal line.  The Democrats certainly think so, judging by the amount being spent to attack her in the Primary.  It’s no wonder that many conservatives find her to be the best choice for being able to win a General election against a Democrat supported opponent.

Betting on a Wildcard

The choice in the Feb 21st Primary comes down to choosing between a Constitutional Scholar who has proven himself as a Supreme Court Justice, and a highly respected Circuit Court judge who has a substantial career resume, and has recently benefitted from a significant amount of media attention in a high profile case witnessed by citizens across the political spectrum.  But which way to go?  Deciding may come down to the small, but significant potential clues into how Judge Dorow would perform as a Supreme Court Justice.

As a Justice, a solid grasp on the concepts behind the Federal and State Constitutions is paramount.

Literature piece distributed by the Dorow campaign grossly mis-stating the source of inalienable rights protected under the Constitution

A recent literature piece published by the Dorow campaign contains one such clue.  In it, Jennifer states that she’ll be:

“Deeply respectful of the constitutional rights our state and federal constitutions endow upon every citizen”

The individual rights protected by the Constitution are endowed upon us by God, not by government.  This is a significant error, and gives some insight into Judge Dorow’s perspective.  Could it be a misprint created by the misguided staffer who authored the piece?  Yes.  But presumably it was proofread by Jennifer Dorow before going into production.  It’s a fairly significant error for a judge who is running for a Supreme Court seat to make.

Dan Kelly’s Non-Commitment to Endorsing Jennifer

One common talking point that Jennifer mentions often in campaign presentations is that she will endorse Daniel Kelly if he advances in the Primary election, but Dan declines to do the reverse.  This is framed as an arrogant and self-serving detractor to his candidacy, and used as a reason to support Judge Dorow.  But is it?

A significant component of Dan Kelly’s campaign message is the question “can we afford to risk such a key seat on an unknown?”  In the event Jennifer Dorow makes the cut in the Primary and Dan Kelly doesn’t, judge Dorow is still just as much of an unknown in terms of her performance as a Supreme Court Justice.  So how could Dan Kelly endorse her after the primary?  He’s nothing if not consistent.  Endorsing her just because she was successful in the Primary is not consistent with the message he is campaigning on.  That’s a good thing, not a negative.

The reverse is not true.  Jennifer Dorow knows exactly how Dan Kelly will perform as a Justice.  She can easily endorse him in the event he makes the cut in the Primary, and she doesn’t. It’s not an inconsistency for her to do so. There is a possibility that she may not need to.  There is an interesting twist in this election.  There are 4 candidates, two considered very liberal, and two considered very conservative.

The last time there were 4 candidates in a Primary election for a Supreme Court seat was back in February of 2011.  There is a fair chance that both Dan Kelly and Jennifer Dorow may emerge as the top two candidates heading into the April General election.  With a strong conservative turnout, and a roughly equal split among voters, there very well could be two strong conservative candidates on the ballot in the General election.  This would be the best possible scenario, since it would guarantee that we’ll elect a conservative Supreme Court Justice.  It would only be a matter of which one.

The danger is, the reverse is also true.  If the Democrats have a stronger turnout in the Primary, and they split the vote roughly in half for the two liberal candidates, we would then be guaranteed that the Supreme Court will flip to a liberal majority.  So one thing is clear:  We need a strong conservative turnout in the February 21st  election, regardless of which conservative candidate one votes for.  To directly answer the question of who I’m supporting in the Primary:  I’m voting for the known commodity, Daniel Kelly.

Early voting has already started, and the deadline for registering by mail or on-line to vote in the Spring Primary is already past.  You can register in-person in your municipal clerk’s office until February 17th, or you can register at the polling location on election day.  You can easily find your polling place at the myvote.wi.gov web site.

Let’s all work together to make sure the State Supreme Court doesn’t fall back into liberal activist majority control.  Make it a point to vote in the Primary election on February 21