The liberal candidate in Wisconsin’s high-stakes Supreme Court election is touting an endorsement from a radical anti-police group that wants to eliminate gang databases, treat criminals as juveniles until age 25, and says the state has a "structurally racist system of mass incarceration."
Judge Janet Protasiewicz announced on social media that she "earned the endorsement" of Citizen Action Wisconsin after the activist group's January candidate forum—she also has the endorsement from the group displayed on her campaign website. Citizen Action Wisconsin lobbies to end cash bail, which it describes as "punishment fees and fines," abolish the enforcement of drug crimes, treat adult criminal suspects as juveniles up until age 25, and set a "10-year deadline for cutting the incarceration rate in half" in the state.
Protasiewicz’s embrace of Citizen Action Wisconsin could fuel attacks from her opponents that she is soft on crime. Fifty-seven percent of Wisconsin voters say they’re concerned about crime, and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes lost in November after facing similar criticism over his ties to Citizen Action Wisconsin and other anti-police groups.
The nominally non-partisan Wisconsin Supreme Court race, which pits Democratic-backed candidate Protasiewicz against Republican-backed candidate Dan Kelly, is likely to be the most expensive in the country this year and could impact Wisconsin’s legislative map, abortion laws, and 2024 presidential election strategy in the swing state.
Citizen Action Wisconsin said it decided to back Protasiewicz and a second left-leaning judge—who lost the primary—after the two candidates participated in the group’s State Supreme Court forum earlier this year.
"In a highly democratic process, Citizen Action conducted a public candidate forum, gathered member feedback on the candidates, and had an extensive board deliberation which reached the conclusion," said the group, adding that it was "deeply impressed by Judge Protasiewicz’s egalitarian judicial philosophy."
During the forum, Protasiewicz warned that "everything from voter rights, everything from women’s reproductive rights, everything from marriage equality is on this line with this particular election." But she also deviated from Citizen Action Wisconsin’s position on bail reform, saying she believed cash bail was "certainly necessary in some cases."
Citizen Action Wisconsin is one of the most vocal critics of law enforcement in the state and claims that Wisconsin has a "structurally racist system of mass incarceration and biased policing." The organization’s official platform calls for releasing all prisoners over a certain age, slashing policing budgets, and eliminating gang databases.
"Immediately release all elders, people in comas, life support, or end-of-life care from prisons and jails," the group’s website said. "Always treat children as children by amending state law to eliminate criminal prosecution of youth under age 25 as adults."
Citizen Action Wisconsin said the state should also "punish [police] departments that use public resources, such as communications staff and departmental social media feeds" to publish details about "protestors, those accused of crimes, and others who have come into disagreement or conflict with police. "
In addition, the organization said police should be barred from arresting people who violate state-of-emergency curfews without "specific proof of violent intent"—unless the violators are "white supremisit groups [sic]."
In addition to its endorsement, Citizen Action Wisconsin recently launched an online fundraising campaign for Protasiewicz called the "Supreme Court Action Fund," which it says has drawn over 1,000 individual donors.
Protasiewicz celebrated the group’s endorsement of her in a Twitter post in January.
"Together, we will take back our Supreme Court from right-wing extremists and restore independence to the judicial branch," Protasiewicz wrote in the post.
Protasiewicz’s critics have pointed to her judicial record as evidence that she is soft on criminals. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business association, has been running an ad highlighting multiple convicted rapists and pedophiles who received light sentences from Protasiewicz.
In one 2019 case, Protasiewicz sentenced a child predator who assaulted an 11-year-old to probation. In another case in 2018, she also gave probation to a mother who allegedly starved her 16-year-old disabled son to death.
Protasiewicz’s campaign told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the criticism was "misleading" and said she spent "nearly a decade on the bench" and "held thousands of criminals accountable for their actions."
Kelly, the conservative-backed candidate in the race, sat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 2016 to 2020. The election will take place on April 4.