Wisconsin Supreme Court
|Current partisan makeup
|% Justices of Color
|Ann Walsh Bradley
As the state’s court of last resort, the Wisconsin Supreme Court holds the power to make final, precedent-setting decisions about the issues it hears. This court has issued major rulings affecting democratic representation, voting and civil rights, and public health, with outcomes directly impacting the lives of residents across Wisconsin.
Why Wisconsin Matters
Just like the United States Supreme Court, state supreme courts rule on many different types of issues affecting people’s daily lives. From decisions affecting corporate accountability and consumer protection; employment protections and workers’ rights; voting rights and redistricting matters; student debt relief and issues affecting young people; access to affordable healthcare; climate change and environmental protections; a variety of issues that directly impact people’s lives are decided by state supreme courts. Many people do not realize what a critical role the justices seated on these supreme courts play on issues that matter to them.
In recent years, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been positioned to issue the final ruling on a number of cases, including public health, democracy, collective bargaining, and criminal justice. There have been several important cases affecting democracy and voting rights in Wisconsin. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in Richard Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission only few weeks before the 2022 primary election, deciding that state election law requires ballot drop boxes to be staffed. This forced the state’s Department of Elections to close 570 unstaffed, or absentee, ballot drop boxes, leaving only drop boxes inside clerks’ offices, accessible only during regular business hours. This ruling went against advice from the state’s Department of Elections, rolling back voting protections that had been instituted in the state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in Johnson v. Wisconsin Election Commission to implement a set of legislative redistricting maps that had been drawn by legislators after they had been vetoed by Governor Tony Evers. In late 2020, Wisconsin was one of several states where former President Donald Trump challenged the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s lawyers argued that massive fraud had occurred in the state’s voting system and asked the court to throw out 200,000 votes, disenfranchise voters, and award the state’s electoral votes to Trump. The Supreme Court rejected Former President Donald Trump’s argument and upheld Joe Biden’s victory in the state. With this ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court played crucial role in upholding the results of the 2020 election, protecting democracy and the rule of law.
The State Court has an important duty to protect the public health and safety. In Becker v. Dane County, the court ruled to limit Governor Evers’ authority to issue public health orders and to give power to issue public health orders to local health departments instead. This decision came after a 2020 ruling that overturned Governor Evers’s stay-at-home order, issued in the first weeks of the pandemic and challenged by legislators in Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm, et al..
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in recent years to limit the authority of the state’s gubernatorial office. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Three Unnamed Petitioners v. Gregory A. Peterson to halt an investigation into whether Republican Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign had illegally coordinated with conservative interest groups. The court found that the investigation’s special prosecutor had acted unconstitutionally and ordered evidence gathered during the investigation to be returned or destroyed. Later that same year, the state’s highest court clarified and reaffirmed its decision from earlier that year that the John Doe investigations of Governor Walker’s recall campaign were unconstitutional.
The WI Supreme Court must also protect workers and consumers. In 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of Act 10, Governor Walker’s signature legislation that stripped collective bargaining rights from the state’s public employees, despite months of vocal public protests and numerous lawsuits filed by the unions who represented these workers.
These rulings make clear that the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays an important role in the lives of people across Wisconsin. In all these cases and potential outcomes, it is critical for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to rule in a way that will protect and defend the rights of all Wisconsinites.
The seven justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court are elected in statewide nonpartisan elections on the first Tuesday in April to serve ten-year terms. To remain on the court, justices must run for re-election after the expiration of their term. Only one seat may be elected in any year. If more than two candidates file for each seat, a primary must be held on the third Tuesday in February.
Under the Wisconsin Constitution, to qualify for a judgeship in Wisconsin a person must be under the age of 70 and must be licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for a minimum of five years prior to their election or appointment. The state previously had a mandatory retirement age of 70 for all judges and justices. In 1977, the state’s constitution was amended to authorize the legislature to impose a maximum age of no less than 70. The legislature has since introduced several bills to impose a mandatory retirement age, but none have become law.
Until 2015, the justice with the longest continuous service on the court served as the chief justice. An amendment to the state constitution passed in 2015 eliminated the seniority selection of the chief justice and replaced it with a two-year term as chief justice via peer vote of the current justices.
If a vacancy occurs on the court, the governor has the power to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. The governor may choose an advisory committee to recommend candidates but is not bound by its recommendations. The person appointed to fill the vacancy must then run for election in the first year after their appointment in which no other justice’s term expires.
Current Justices on the Court
Annette Ziegler, Chief Justice
Chief Justice Annette Ziegler was first elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April, 2007, and assumed office in August of that year. She was re-elected in 2017, and her current term on the court expires in August 2027.
- Chief Justice Ziegler entered private practice after completing law school in 1989, becoming a pro bono special District Attorney in Milwaukee County in 1992. In 1996, she became Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. She was appointed as a judge to the Washington County Circuit Court the following year, where she served until she ran for election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2007.
- Chief Justice Ziegler was elected by her peers to serve as Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in May 2021, succeeding Justice Roggensack as chief justice. Her current term as Chief Justice ends in April 2023.
Janet Protasiewicz, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Janet Protasiewicz joined the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August 2023. Her current term expires in July 2033.
- Justice Protasiewicz began her career with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. She remained there for over 25 years. Then in 2014, Protasiewicz was elected as judge on the Circuit Court in Milwaukee County. She was re-elected in 2020 and remained there until her election to the supreme court.
Ann Walsh Bradley, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Ann Walsh Bradley began her first term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August 1995. Her current term expires in July 2025.
- Justice Bradley was an attorney working in private practice from 1976 to 1985, when she was first elected to the Marathon County Circuit Court. She served as a judge on the circuit court until 1995, when she was first elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
- Justice Bradley successfully ran for re-election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2005, and again in 2015.
Rebecca Bradley, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Rebecca Bradley was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Governor Scott Walker in October 2015 and won election to a full term in 2016. Her current term expires in July 2026.
- Justice Bradley was a civil litigator from 1996 to 2012, when she was appointed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. She then ran for election to a full term the circuit court in 2013, where she served until May 2015, when she was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
- Justice Bradley was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in September 2015 and successfully ran for election to a full term in April 2016.
Rebecca Dallet, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Rebecca Dallet first ran for election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April 2018, with her current term expiring in July 2028.
- Prior to her election to the Supreme Court, Justice Dallet worked as an assistant district attorney in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. She also worked as an adjunct professor of law at Marquette University Law School.
Brian Hagedorn, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Brian Hagedorn was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April 2019. His term expires in July 2029.
- Justice Hagedorn worked in private practice from 2006 until 2009, then clerked for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman until 2010. He then worked as an assistant attorney general in the Wisconsin Department of Justice until 2011 before becoming chief legal counsel to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, where he served until 2015 when Walker appointed him to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
- Hagedorn ran for election to a full term on the Court of Appeals in 2017, then ran successfully for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2019.
Jill Karofsky, Associate Justice
Associate Justice Jill Karofsky joined the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August 2020. Her current term expires in July 2030.
- Justice Karofsky served as the education director and director of human resources and counsel for the National Conference of Bar Examiners from 2001 until 2010. She then served as deputy district attorney in Dane County, before becoming an assistant attorney general in the Wisconsin Department of Justice. She then served as executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Crime Victim Services before running for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2020.
Johnson v. Wisconsin Election Commission (2022) – Redistricting
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of legislative redistricting maps drawn by lawmakers to favor their party using maps based on data from the 2010 Census after consensus could not be reached on maps drawn using data from the 2020 Census.
Richard Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (2022) – Voting Rights
The Supreme Court ruled that state law required ballot drop boxes to be staffed, forcing the state’s Department of Elections to close 570 absentee drop boxes four weeks before the statewide primary election was due to be held.
Kaul v. Prehn (2022) – Separation of Powers
The Wisconsin Attorney General sued to force an appointee to the state’s Natural Resources Board to vacate his position after the expiration of his term. The Supreme Court ruled against the Attorney General, allowing the appointee to remain on the board for nearly two years after his term had expired.
Wisconsin v. Kizer (2022) – Criminal Justice
The Supreme Court allowed a criminal defendant charged with the first-degree intentional homicide of the man who allegedly trafficked her to invoke an immunity defense offered to victims of sex trafficking under state law.
Becker v. Dane County (2021) – Public Health
Two years after its decision removing authority from the governor to issue public health orders, the Supreme Court gave local health departments the authority to issue public health orders without first securing permission from elected officials.
Trump v. Biden (2020) – Election Integrity
In a 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected Former President Donald Trump’s argument that 200,000 votes should be invalidated, and upheld Joe Biden’s victory in the state in the 2020 election.
Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm, et al. (2020) – Public Heath
Two months into the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order that closed businesses and schools in an effort to limit spread of the virus.
League of Women Voters v. Evers (2019) – Open Meetings Act
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin sued Governor Tony Evers in a complaint arguing that an extraordinary session held by the state legislature was unconstitutional. The circuit court that heard the case issued a temporary injunction halting all legislation and appointments approved during the session. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s order and instructed it to dismiss the suit.
Three Unnamed Petitioners v. Gregory A. Peterson (2015) – John Doe Investigation
In December 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified and reaffirmed its decision from July of that year that the John Doe investigations of Governor Walker’s recall campaign were unconstitutional and ordered the special prosecutor to discontinue any further involvement in the probe.
Three Unnamed Petitioners v. Gregory A. Peterson (2015) – John Doe Investigation
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled to officially halt the John Doe II investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 campaign against efforts to recall him coordinated illegally with conservative interest groups. The court called the special prosecutor’s handling of the case unconstitutional and ordered that all potential evidence be returned all copies be destroyed.
State v. Brereton (2013) – Individual Privacy
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the police did not violate a man’s privacy after installing a GPS tracker in his car without his knowledge. Brereton challenged the use of the GPS, seeking to suppress evidence found as a result of its use. Brereton and his attorney contended that real-time tracking was not covered by the warrant. The Supreme Court upheld the lower appeals court’s ruling with a 6 to 1 decision in favor of law enforcement. State v. Circuit Court for Dane County (2011) – Collective Bargaining The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of Act 10, which gutted the right to collective bargaining for the state’s public workers. The court ruled that lawmakers did not violate the state’s Open Meetings Act by approving the Act because they were not subject to it. The ruling overturned an order from a Dane County judge that threw out the new law.
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court
Make your plan to vote! In Wisconsin, you can vote by mail ballot, early in-person at your municipal clerk’s office, or at your polling place on Election Day. If you’re unable to go to the polls on Election Day or if you would rather cast your vote before Election Day, you can vote early in-person or have your ballot mailed to you. Learn more about how you can vote in Wisconsin here.
Register to Vote
- You can register to vote in your municipal clerk’s office until March 31, 2023 at 5:00 pm.
- You can register to vote at your polling place on Election Day, April 4, 2023. Find your Polling Place here.
- All voters in Wisconsin can request an absentee ballot be mailed to them for any reason. Voters must be registered before they can request an absentee ballot. Request an absentee ballot here.
- If you have requested an absentee ballot and have not received it, contact your clerk here.
- Your absentee ballot request must be received by your municipal clerk no later than 5:00 p.m. on March 30, 2023.
- Absentee ballots must be postmarked or delivered to your municipal clerk’s office no later than 8:00 pm on Election Day, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Vote Early In-Person
- Voters may request to vote an absentee ballot in-person in their municipal clerk’s office from March 21 to April 2, 2023 depending on availability. Office hours vary by municipality.
- Some municipal offices may not offer in-person absentee voting hours. Contact your municipal clerk for absentee voting hours here.
Vote at the Polls on Election Day
- Polls are open on Election Day from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm. If you are in line to vote by 8:00 pm, you must be allowed to vote. Stay in line until you are able to cast your ballot!
- If you want to vote in-person on Election Day, make sure you know your polling place. You can find your polling place here.