, ,

All 4 liberal justices back Crawford’s Wisconsin Supreme Court campaign

The endorsements came just 2 days after Dane County Judge Susan Crawford announced her candidacy

Dane County Judge Susan Crawford has announced she is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Dane County Judge Susan Crawford has announced she is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of Crawford campaign

Just two days after she announced she was running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Dane County Judge Susan Crawford received endorsements from all four of the court’s liberal justices — a rare sign of unanimity behind a single candidate this early in the campaign cycle.

In a written statement released by Crawford’s campaign Wednesday, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet, Jill Karofsky and Janet Protasiewicz all pledged to support her candidacy.

The court has had a 4-3 liberal majority since last year after Protasiewicz defeated former conservative Justice Dan Kelly, ending the court’s conservative majority that had been in place since 2008. That will be up for grabs next year with Bradley set to retire.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Protasiewicz, who energized the state’s Democratic base in her 2023 campaign for the court, said in her endorsement that Wisconsinites value fairness in the courts, and had made their voices heard.

“Today, we’re finally delivering on that promise and making decisions rooted in the law and our constitution — we can’t risk going backward. I’m proud to endorse Judge Susan Crawford because I know she shares our belief in a justice system that gives everyone a fair shot,” Protasiewicz said.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz celebrates her victory on election night
Justice Janet Protasiewicz, center, celebrates her victory on election night on April 4, 2023, with Justices Rebecca Dallet, left, Jill Karofsky, far left, and Ann Walsh Bradley, far right. The liberal majority has moved quickly to assert its control over the court. Drake White-Bergey/Wisconsin Watch

Endorsements by current and former justices — while coveted by candidates —are unlikely to make or break a campaign, especially given how much money is expected to be spent on the April 2025 Supreme Court race.

But winning the support of all four justices this early could help Crawford raise the money she needs to compete, according to Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and Marquette University Law School professor.

“In terms of the timing, it is unusual, and probably even extraordinary,” Geske said. “I think that people are feeling like they gotta get in the race early and work hard, because if you have to raise that kind of money, it’s going to take substantial time.”

A running tally of spending in the 2023 Supreme Court race by WisPolitics found a grand total of $56 million spent between candidates, political parties and outside groups. In terms of what’s at stake, Geske said next year’s race is at least as important as last year’s.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and Marquette University Law School Professor Janine Geske. Gary Porter / Courtesy of Marquette Law School

While races for the court are officially nonpartisan, in practice, Democratic and Republican activists are heavily involved. Right now, the 2025 race is shaping up as a contest between Crawford, the choice of liberals, and Waukesha County Judge Brad Schimel, the choice of conservatives.

Schimel, a Republican who was Wisconsin’s Attorney General from 2015 to 2019, was the first candidate to enter the race, announcing his candidacy more than six months ago. He said last month that he’d already raised more than $500,000 for his court bid.

In a written statement, Schimel downplayed Crawford’s endorsements, and highlighted his own.

“It’s not surprising that the leftists on the Supreme Court are supporting another leftist who is also hell bent on altering our way of life through a radical judiciary,” Schimel said. “Wisconsinites will be more compelled by my three decades in public safety and endorsements I’ve earned from the Milwaukee Police Association, Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association, and a bipartisan group of two thirds of Wisconsin’s sheriffs.”

Schimel’s campaign has yet to announce endorsements from current or former Supreme Court justices.

Brad Schimel stands at a podium.
Brad Schimel announces his run for Wisconsin State Supreme Court on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Angela Major/WPR

Should a third candidate run for the court, there would be a February primary where the top two vote-getters advance.

Protasiewicz, Karofsky and Dallet all faced liberal primary challenges in their elections, but Geske said their endorsements could help Crawford avoid one.

“My guess is that wasn’t the intent, but it may have that effect,” Geske said. “Anybody else who was kind of floating the idea … would certainly think twice because of the justices’ endorsement of her.”

Earlier this year, Judges Chris Taylor and Pedro Colon — both former Democratic state lawmakers who now serve on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals — said they might run for Supreme Court before ultimately deciding against it.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Maria Lazar, a conservative, has not ruled out running for Supreme Court. Lazar did not respond to an email Friday asking whether she was still considering the race.