Conservative Justice David Prosser May Lose Wisconsin Supreme Court Seat: What Can a Down-to-the-Wire State Supreme Court Race in Wisconsin Tell Us About 2012?

By Kristina

Apr 6, 2011 3:52pm

ABC’s Amy Walter and Chris Bury report:

Assistant state attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg—backed by liberals—holds a paper thin lead of fewer than 300 votes over state supreme court justice David Prosser, a conservative, in the non-partisan race.  The margin is so narrow that a recount is inevitable.  Judicial elections are normally dull affairs, but Wisconsin voters turned out Tuesday in record numbers–fueled by the state’s raging argument over Walker and his move to strip state employees of their bargaining. If Prosser loses he would be only the second incumbent Justice in over 40 years to lose a race for the high court seat.

So what does this all mean for 2012? The Badger state will be at the center of the political universe next fall.

To be sure, it’s always dangerous to read too much into one election. But, this wasn’t a typical down ballot election either. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School estimates interest groups on both sides spent more than $3.5 million on TV ads in this race. 

Even so, despite the strong showing of Republicans in the state in 2010, and Democrats’ success here in 2006 and 2008, this nail biter of an election shows that Wisconsin isn’t red or blue – but deep purple. Moreover, it indicates that this normally sleepy Midwestern state is going to be one of the most hotly contested battleground states in 2012.

University of Wisconsin professor Ken Goldstein says that the results of this race show that Wisconsin is “not a blow out state – we are an evenly divided state. Remember, the 2000 and 2004 presidential where Gore (.4 percent) and Kerry (.2) percent won by razor thin margins in Wisconsin.”

In fact, notes Goldstein, Kloppenburg carried heavily Democratic Dane County (Madison), by a 73 to 27 percent margin, while Prosser wins heavily Republican Waukesha County, “by the EXACT same margin.”

One other reason why this election is significant: the new court may ultimately rule on the legality of controversial law backed by Walker that repeals most collective bargaining by public employees.  The Appeals Court has punted on taking up the case and it’s not clear yet whether the current court (5-4 conservative) or the next one will take up the question of whether Republican legislators violated – as two Dane County officials have alleged in separate lawsuits – Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.

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