The country’s largest gun-control group is investing big money to oppose a conservative judge in a closely-watched race for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
On Monday, Everytown for Gun Safety’s political action committee announced a $500,000 television ad campaign against current candidate and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Daniel Kelly. The ad primarily targets Kelly’s stance on abortion but also suggests he would put the “community at risk” based on his past ruling in a gun case.
“You already know Dan Kelly worked for a radical anti-abortion group,” the ad begins. “And, on the court, could uphold Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban — with no exceptions for rape or incest.”
“Here’s what you didn’t know,” the ad continues. “Kelly opposed background checks on all gun sales, and even wrote the court decision making it easier for dangerous people to carry guns in public.”
The group’s investment in a state judicial race highlights the ideological stakes in controlling the perennial swing state’s highest court. Wisconsin is holding an April 4 election to fill an open seat created by the retirement of conservative Justice Patience Roggensack. With his departure, the non-partisan court stands at an even 3-3 ideological split, giving progressives a chance to seize the majority on the court for the first time in more than 15 years.
The ad campaign also highlights Everytown’s plan to stick with the strategy of elevating abortion politics alongside, and in some cases, ahead of, gun politics in its messaging. The group leaned heavily on that strategy in its opposition to Republican candidates during the 2022 midterm elections, with mixed results. It is repeating it with its Wisconsin ad buy.
“Banning abortion. Putting our communities at risk. Dan Kelly is too extreme for our Supreme Court,” the ad said.
While neither Kelly nor his more liberal opponent Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge Janet Protasiewicz has publicly said how they would rule on an abortion case, Kelly’s campaign website highlights the endorsements of three pro-life organizations. Protasiewicz has been endorsed by the national pro-abortion rights advocacy organization Emily’s List.
“Dan Kelly wants to make it harder for women to make their own reproductive choices and easier for criminals to get their hands on guns — both of which are terrible for the health and safety of Wisconsinites,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, said.
Feinblatt also pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision as a motivating factor behind the group’s support for judges who will be amenable to arguments in favor of gun control.
“With the U.S. Supreme Court having opened the door to the arguments of gun rights extremists, it’s more important than ever for us to elect state judges who respect the right to take common-sense steps to prevent gun violence,” he said.
Ben Voelkel, a senior advisor to the Kelly campaign, called Everytown’s ad an example of “out-of-state liberal special interests” attempting to “buy a Supreme Court seat” for Kelly’s opponent. In contrast, he said Kelly would focus on defending the constitution from the bench.
“Justice Kelly will uphold the rule of law and protect the rights enshrined in both the state and federal constitution and their amendments,” he told The Reload.
As the basis for its attack on Kelly’s position on guns, Everytown cited a 2017 ruling striking down the City of Madison’s ban on gun carry on public transportation. Kelly, who was on the state’s Supreme Court then, wrote the majority opinion that determined the ban violated Wisconsin’s firearm preemption law.
The group also cited his past endorsement from the NRA as justification for claiming he “opposed background checks on all gun sales,” according to NBC News.
It is unclear if the NRA plans to invest in the race to counter the influence of the gun-control group. The group has again endorsed Kelly in the race, but the most recently available FEC filings for the group’s PAC and Super-PAC don’t show any new spending on his behalf. The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE 3-23-2023 5:36 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comments from the Kelly campaign.