Local TV news outlets in Wisconsin have failed to ask Judge Daniel Kelly about his extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ positions as well as his association with election denial groups ahead of the state's upcoming Supreme Court primary election.
On February 21, Wisconsinites will choose two judges to move on to the April general election to fill an open seat that’s expected to determine the ideological balance of the state’s Supreme Court. The campaign is also expected to be the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history.
The policy implications of the election could be enormous. The court is expected to hear a challenge to an 1849 law that prohibits abortion in nearly every case and conservatives argue supersedes all subsequent abortion laws in the state since Roe v. Wade was overturned last spring. An ideological shift in the court’s makeup could also impact the future of gerrymandering, voting rights, and election rules in Wisconsin.
Judge Kelly's track record of extremism
Kelly is one of two conservative candidates vying for a spot on the state’s April 4 ballot. In interviews, Kelly has touted himself as a “constitutional conservative” without a partisan agenda who promises to be the “most boring” justice on the state Supreme Court. But his political activity and supporters demonstrate otherwise.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kelly opposed abortion rights, gay rights, and workers’ rights during his previous term on the state Supreme Court, where he was appointed in 2016 by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker:
While on the court, Kelly wrote a decision that found Madison could not bar guns on its buses, argued the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage undermined democracy, compared abortion to murder, and praised a decision that upheld Act 10, the 2011 law that scaled back collective bargaining for public workers.
During his failed campaign in 2020, Kelly earned the endorsement of former President Donald Trump — who previously promised to appoint only anti-abortion judges — and his current campaign is endorsed by state anti-abortion groups and financially backed by the anti-abortion Women Speak Out PAC. Kelly has also promoted endorsements from anti-abortion groups in campaign ads on Facebook.
Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Kelly participated in a series of so-called “election integrity” panels sponsored by the Wisconsin GOP and the Republican National Committee. The roundtables promised to offer information to voters about “the party’s efforts to ensure 2022 is the year of fair, open, and honest elections in Wisconsin” as part of the conservative movement’s repeated efforts to baselessly cast doubt on election security in the U.S. Now, Kelly’s campaign for the state Supreme Court is being largely funded by Fair Courts America — a political action committee linked to Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein, a notorious funder of the “Stop the Steal” movement who has bankrolled election-denying candidates across the country.
Several local TV news outlets have failed to ask Kelly about his extreme record on abortion and other issues
While reporting on the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election, local TV news outlets WMTV, WISN, WJFW, and WISC failed to adequately report on Kelly.
- On February 14, WMTV aired a condensed version of its interview with Kelly in which anchor Leigh Mills asked Kelly just two questions: one about differences between himself and other judges and the other asking whether the “Supreme Court has been drawn into the political fray” as a “new reality.” In his answers, Kelly spoke of his “absolute commitment” to “constitutional conservatism” and impartiality. (In a full-length interview published on the WMTV website, Mills further asked Kelly about his position on the state’s 1849 abortion law and his views on former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s participation in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.)
- During a brief interview for WISN’s “Coffee with the Candidates” series, reporter Gerron Jordan asked Kelly, “Why should people trust you?” and “What keeps you up at night?” However, the segment failed to note Kelly’s judicial record and comments on abortion rights and same-sex marriage, or his associations with Uihlein and anti-abortion groups.
- On February 9, WJFW reporter Kyle Pozorski asked Kelly about his vote to overturn Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus in May 2020, but did not ask about why he compared abortion to murder and argued that same-sex marriage undermines democracy. Instead, the interviewer emphasized Kelly’s claim that “his job as a justice was to stay above the fray of politics.”
- During an eight-minute interview in January, WISC reporter Will Kenneally allowed Kelly to spell out his ideas about “constitutionalism” in reference to the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and his opposition to Evers’ 2020 stay-at-home order, but did not ask a single question about his own track record on abortion and gay rights or the political action committees supporting his campaign.
Local news outlet WAOW demonstrated how to adequately cover Kelly’s extremist ties
- During the January 29 edition of WAOW’s UPFRONT, anchor Matt Smith asked Kelly about his ties to Uihlein, lawsuits questioning the results of the 2020 election, and challenges to the state’s 1849 abortion law.
If Kelly advances to the general election in April, local journalists would be wise to follow Smith’s lead and press Kelly on his extreme track record.