Karofsky defeats Kelly in decisive victory

NOW: Karofsky defeats Kelly in decisive victory

Updated: 10:59 p.m. on April 13, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky defeated incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly in a decisive victory in the most consequential statewide race in Wisconsin’s tumultuous spring election.

The race for a ten-year term on the state Supreme Court was nonpartisan, but in name only. Karofsky was backed by liberals and Kelly by conservatives, leading the contest to be yet another proxy battle between democrats and republicans. The Dane County judge’s victory shrinks the conservative majority on the state’s highest court from 5-2 down to 4-3.

Karofsky credited her win to the perseverance of her supporters on election day, despite health concerns.

“They were risking exposure to COVID-19,” Karofsky said in a video conference Monday night. “But people were willing to do that because they wanted their voice heard in this election. You know, a lot of times we’re wringing our hands on election day because we’re so upset about voter apathy; that wasn’t the problem on Tuesday, people wanted their voices heard.”

In a statement, Kelly shared his congratulations to his opponent. He added, “I had hoped my service would continue for another decade, but tonight's results make clear that God has a different plan for my future.”

The race creates a shift in the Supreme Court, but it was also seen as a precursor for the General Election in November.

In January, President Donald Trump gave an endorsement to Kelly at a Keep America Great rally in Milwaukee. Trump also touted Kelly in tweets leading up to the spring election.

Karofsky gained endorsements from democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

The outcome of the Supreme Court race was not overtly obvious in the weeks before the election. Karofsky was seen as having an edge because the democratic presidential primary race was likely to bring more liberals and progressives to the polls. On top of that, democratic Governor Tony Evers set a Special Election to fill the 7th Congressional District seat to be held for May 12 and not fall on the same day as the spring election. That seat was left vacant by former U.S. Congressman Sean Duffy.

But a victory by current Justice Brian Hagedorn in the 2019 Supreme Court race drew a blueprint for conservatives to win and maintain a firm grip on their majority.

The wild card proved to be the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the spring election. Leading up to election day, liberal groups as well as the Karofsky campaign drummed up claims that in-person voting during the pandemic would disenfranchise voters, especially those in liberal strongholds Madison and Milwaukee. Just hours before results were set to be released, Karofsky called for contributions to her campaign’s legal fund, signaling preparations for a court battle over the results.

In the end, Karofsky came out on top with a nine-point margin of victory reported as of Monday night.

Kelly was appointed by former Governor Scott Walker in 2016. His term ends on July 31. Karofsky is set to begin her ten-year term on August 1.

The next state Supreme Court race is not until 2023 – when Chief Justice Paige Roggensack’s current term concludes. Liberals will potentially have the opportunity to flip the court when that happens.


Posted: 3:32 p.m. on April 13, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The major statewide race getting a lot of attention is for Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. Justice Daniel Kelly, the incumbent supported by conservatives faced off against Judge Jill Karofsky, favored by progressives. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this race shaped up to be yet another proxy battle between Republicans and Democrats, with a seat on the state's highest court at stake. 

This race pinned current Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, who was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2016, against Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky. 

The race is supposed to be nonpartisan, but it's that in name only, with conservatives backing Kelly and liberals backing Karofsky. 

A win by Kelly solidifies a 5-2 conservative majority for the court, while a Karofsky victory can narrow that to a 4-3 majority. 

In last week's case on whether or not the election should move forward on April 7, Kelly recused himself on the case but made it clear on social media that he believed in-person voting and the original date of the election should stay in place. 

Karofsky disagreed. On social media Monday, April 13, just hours before results were set to be released, Karofsky hinted at what may be to come by calling for contributions to her campaign's legal fund -- a sign that the results could result in legal challenges that could play out in court. 

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