MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT: Judicial candidates make their case ahead of February primary.

 
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Byline: Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

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Wisconsinites will weigh in on the current makeup of the state Supreme Court in February as Justice Dan Kelly seeks election to a full 10-year term on the high court.

But before he can win himself a spot on that ballot, he has to best at least one rival in the state's primary election on Feb. 18. His two challengers for his current seat are Marquette University Law School professor Ed Fallone and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky.

All three candidates have been campaigning in an increasingly polarized political setting, which has affected voters' views of the courts. More than half of the 800 registered Wisconsin voters who participated in Marquette University Law School's first poll of 2020 said they can't trust the government to do what is right.

A Marquette poll conducted in September found that although Americans have more confidence in the Supreme Court than any other branch of government, 36 percent of the roughly 1,400 respondents believed the justices are motivated by politics when making decisions, rather than the law.

The three candidates discussed the partisan state of the judiciary during their first debate in November. The Wisconsin Law Journal talked one-on-one with each candidate about political polarization, their experiences and what influence they might have on the state Supreme Court if elected.

Justice Dan Kelly, Wisconsin Supreme Court

Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed Kelly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2016. Before serving on the high court, Kelly was a commercial litigator and founding partner of Rogahn Kelly in Waukesha. Even before then, he had been a shareholder at Reinhart in Milwaukee.

Kelly said voters should consider candidates' experience and judicial ideas when casting their ballots. He believes justices should apply the law as it is written and without substituting their own judgment.

"If we do our jobs within that properly defined role, we'll have our freedoms and liberties protected, and we'll be able to maintain law and order," Kelly said.

Kelly sees flaws in his opponents' philosophies or lack thereof. He said that when Fallone says he doesn't have a philosophy, that suggests he isn't ready to serve on the state Supreme Court. He said Karofsky has positioned herself as a "social justice warrior," which brings her progressive politics to the bench.

Kelly believes he's been nonpartisan in...

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