While much of the world watched the Donald Trump show, one state in the American Midwest quietly changed the channel. On the day that Mr Trump pretended to be an American hero (rather than a complete and utter zero) Wisconsin’s highest court shifted to the left.
It was an earthquake, a shifting of the political tectonic plates in a battleground state, with implications that go much beyond Wisconsin.
The state was once known for its progressive traditions and liberal activism, which stretched all the way back to the birth of the Republican Party. But since 2010, Wisconsin has become a laboratory of right-wing, anti–labour politics. Gerrymandered legislative maps drawn by the Republican Party allowed it to retain control of the levers of power, no matter how people voted. The result is that Republicans control about two-thirds of the legislative seats though the state is evenly divided politically. The conservative majority on Wisconsin’s supreme court has repeatedly upheld those maps.
Add to that the stifling of cultural dissent. The US Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe vs Wade made abortion unavailable in Wisconsin because an 1849 abortion ban still existed on the state’s legal code.
But now the political tide may be turning with US conservatives losing electoral ground over their anti-abortion policies. In Wisconsin, as in Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan, a cross-section of voters – liberals and moderates – rallied to hand electoral defeats to opponents of abortion. Litigation over the 19th century abortion statute is expected to reach the Wisconsin supreme court.
Unsurprisingly then, Wisconsin’s supreme court election was the most expensive state judicial race in US history. Liberal Milwaukee county judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated former state supreme court justice Dan Kelly. Her election refocuses the political direction of the state and could potentially affect the 2024 US presidential election if the state’s supreme court is asked to determine key issues over voting rules, counts and results.
Honestly, the histrionics in Manhattan was not a patch on events in the Midwest.