Protasiewicz on her run for Supreme Court

MADISON, Wis. — The race for the state’s highest court will be a contentious one, with four candidates lining up already. There are currently two liberal candidates and two conservative candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring. Political reporter Will Kenneally sat down with one of the liberal candidates, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz.

News 3 Now: When was the moment you first decided to run?

Janet Protasiewicz: It’s an interesting question. I talked to people about it in 2020 because I was interested in 2020 and then opted out. This year, I started talking with people in April. I met with Justice Rebecca Dallet, I met with Judge Lisa Neubauer, talked to a number of people.

The difference between the seat that’s coming up in 2023 is that this seat is so critically important. I was in a position where I could not sit on the sidelines and sit back and watch, in my opinion, extreme right-wing radicals win that seat. In my opinion, that would set the state back a century in time.

And the people in the state of Wisconsin deserve so much better. So we started talking about the path to victory, what it looked like the amount of work, that it was going to take an extreme amount of work a year on the campaign trail. And so by the end of April, I had pretty much decided yes, I was going to do it. And then the next thing you have to put a big campaign team together and start working. And so I think it was probably the middle of May when we made the official announcement, but it was just too critically important of a seat for me to sit back and not do it.

N3N: What about your background do you want to take to higher office?

JP: I was in the district attorney’s office for many years in Milwaukee. I was born and raised on the south side of Milwaukee and I had one interest my entire life and that was community service. Since the time I was very, very young.

I worked for Congressman Clem Zablocki back when I was a teenager, worked for the League of Women Voters and all I wanted to do was community service, went to law school at Marquette, came out and decided I don’t want to work at a big law firm. I want to work at the district attorney’s office where I can help victims, help keep community safe, protect families, protect children, that’s what I really wanted to do.

Then you get to a point in your career where you’re going into court every day and you’re asking judges to do things and you’re making arguments and you say, I’d rather be making those decisions, then going into court and asking every day for what I think is fair and appropriate under a set of circumstances. So I ran for judge. I’ve been reelected two times without opposition and have just been really enjoying that until the spring when I started to have some really serious conversations and really serious thoughts about what lies ahead for the state, this beautiful state that I love and that we live in.

And it’s interesting because I really like people. So when I started talking to Justice Dallet about this race, I said: ‘I really, I love people. I love the state. All I want to do is serve and I want things to be fair.’

I think I have a common sense approach that perhaps other people don’t have. I don’t consider myself a real partisan. I’m somebody who’s going to uphold the Constitution, who’s going to follow the law, and every day, do my best to get to the right decision by following the rule of law in these cases, nothing predetermined, no plans to get to a predetermined outcome. My plan is to follow the rule of law.

N3N: How do you imagine, for example, a case debating the legality of the state’s legislative districts, you would handle that or what will go through your head as you see that case?

JP: I think my values will go through my head. When you get a case like that, when you get when you realize Wisconsin is a pretty purple state, no matter what side you’re on, Wisconsin’s a purple state. In 2020, Governor Evers won by 1.1%. He won by a little bit more this time, right?

And you look at the breakdown in the State Assembly. You look at the breakdown in the state Senate, of how many seats are Republican and how many seats are Democrat in a purple state. How can it be fair, right? It’s not fair.

So I think when you have values of fairness, you have a value that everybody’s vote should count, that in a democracy, everybody should be heard. It resonates. So while I can’t say how I would particularly vote on an issue, I can tell you those values would be brought into the Supreme Court chamber with me. Fairness, I really think that people of the state of Wisconsin deserve better, and not pre-determining a result, but just looking at the fact that we’re in a purple state and the numbers don’t match up to that at all.

N3N: Is there anybody on your court right now or any judicial thinker that you admire or you want to emulate?

JP: I think the bench of many excellent thinkers quite frankly, Justice Dallet some of her decisions, brilliant; Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, brilliant; Justice Karofsky, I give her a lot of credit. They don’t always vote or roll together. They call them as they see them. But they have written some interesting, insightful decisions to guide people in the state.