Former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is running for a seat on the state Supreme Court, telling supporters at a campaign announcement in Waukesha Thursday night that his goal is to restore integrity and accountability on the court and conservatives should unify behind him.
More than 100 GOP faithful gathered inside the massive Weldall Manufacturing facility in Waukesha where a large American flag hung from a 100-ton gantry crane above the lectern. Schimel, 58, began the night wearing jeans and an untucked shirt, with a bass guitar slung from his neck by a leather strap with embroidered flames. His band played covers of Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.”
But the party atmosphere shifted when Schimel began to talk about the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s liberal majority, warning supporters that their rights aren’t safe.
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He accused the court’s newest Justice, Janet Protasiewicz, of prejudging a lawsuit against Republican-drawn voting districts because she called the maps “rigged” during her campaign. Schimel also accused the rest of the court’s liberals of putting their own values above the law and the Constitution.
He said the liberal majority’s decision to fire former Wisconsin State Courts Director Randy Koschnick and weaken the powers of current Chief Justice, conservative Annette Ziegler, was a power grab meant to “rub all of our noses in it.”
“Are any of our rights safe from a high court that puts their own opinions above the law?” Schimel asked.
The court’s liberals, Schimel said, are not concerned with laws or prior court precedent. He said America’s founders warned against those in power doing what they want unchecked.
“Wisconsinites of all political ideologies should find this offensive,” Schimel said.
Schimel’s announcement comes a full 17 months before the next Supreme Court election, which gives him a head start against potential conservative primary challengers. Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Maria Lazar told WisPolitics this week she’s still considering getting into the Supreme Court race despite news of Schimel’s impending announcement.
Schimel told supporters that if conservatives are going to win again, they need to unify.
“I believe I’m the best candidate to unify those who have been at odds through the difficult primaries of the past two years,” Schimel said. “We need to avoid a damaging primary. But I’m not entitled to avoid that. I’m not anointed to this. I will earn it.”
While Wisconsin Supreme Court races are technically nonpartisan, more than $56 million was spent by Republicans and Democrats in the last matchup between conservative former Justice Dan Kelly and Protasiewicz, which handed liberals control of the court for the first time in more than a decade.
Standing by Protasiewicz’s side that night in April was Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and the court’s two other liberal Justices, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky. Soon after, Bradley, 73, told reporters of her intention to seek a fourth 10-year term.
Bradley has a long record of success in races for the court. She won her first term in 1995 and was reelected in 2005 and again in 2015. During her last race, she defeated conservative Judge James Daley in a landslide, winning by more than 131,000 votes or 16 percentage points.
Schimel has also won statewide. In 2014, while serving as Waukesha County district attorney, he defeated Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, a Democrat, by more than 144,000 votes or roughly six percentage points in the higher-turnout November general election.
The former Attorney General got choked up at times when referring to the strain that statewide election put on his wife and their young children. With his kids now older, he said this campaign may be easier on them, but he expects tens of millions of dollars to flow into Wisconsin once again.
“With your help, we will win in April 2025 and restore integrity and objectivity to the Supreme Court and restore public confidence in the justice system,” Schimel said. “This is not just a campaign. This is a movement to take back our state.”
Schimel spent four years serving as Wisconsin’s attorney general. During that time, the self-proclaimed pro-life Republican appealed a Planned Parenthood lawsuit against a 2013 GOP law requiring doctors providing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Schimel also garnered criticism from Wisconsin liberals in February 2018 when he joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and attorneys generals from 17 other states in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act healthcare law.
Schimel lost his reelection bid to current Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul by around 17,000 votes that fall. He was subsequently appointed to the Waukesha County Circuit Court by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Schimel was unopposed when he won another six-year circuit court term in 2019.
Democrats, who are all but certain to support Bradley in 2025, issued a statement criticizing Schimel’s record, including his support for restrictions on abortion.
“Wisconsinites rejected Brad Schimel after a single term as Attorney General because his extreme politics and inept mismanagement became too great to ignore,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler in a written statement. “Wisconsin’s worst Attorney General doesn’t deserve a promotion to our state’s highest court.”
Should Schimel, or another conservative, defeat Bradley in 2025, it would shift the court back to a conservative majority. Should Bradley prevail, the next chance conservatives have to flip the court would likely be 2028.
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