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Trump-backed justice on Wisconsin Supreme Court loses seat

Wisconsin holds primary despite pandemic

Washington — A justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who was endorsed by President Trump lost his seat on the state's highest court in one of the most closely-watched races of Wisconsin's April 7 election.

Incumbent Justice Dan Kelly was defeated by Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky, the Associated Press projected. Wisconsin held in-person voting last week despite efforts to delay the primary election because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted more than a dozen other states to postpone their primaries or move to vote-by-mail and roiled the presidential election. 

A string of 11th-hour court decisions regarding extended absentee voting thrust Wisconsin's Election Day into turmoil, with the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately blocking a lower court ruling that gave Wisconsin voters six more days to submit absentee ballots hours before the polls opened.

Mr. Trump backed Kelly in the run-up to the election, tweeting that the incumbent justice had his "complete endorsement."

"Highly respected Justice Daniel Kelly is running for the Supreme Court in the Great State of Wisconsin. Justice Kelly has been doing a terrific job upholding the Rule of Law and defending your #2A. Tough on Crime, Loves our Military and our Vets," the president tweeted days before the April 7 primary.

On the day of the primary, during the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Mr. Trump called Kelly a "highly respected justice" and a "fantastic judge," and he claimed that it was because of his endorsement that Democrats in Wisconsin wanted to change the date of the election.

"As soon as I endorsed him, the Wisconsin Democrats say, 'Oh, let's move the election to two months later,'" Mr. Trump claimed. "They didn't mind having the election until I endorsed him, which is very interesting. Now they talk about, 'Oh, safety, safety.' Well, it was 15 minutes after I put out an endorsement that they said, 'We have to move the election.' They didn't want to move the election before that."

In fact, Mr. Trump had endorsed Kelly months earlier, in mid-January, according to a press release issued by the Wisconsin Republican Party.

On Election Day, Mr. Trump urged Wisconsinites to "get out and vote NOW" for Kelly.

Karofsky, meanwhile, had the backing of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Senator Bernie Sanders, who suspended his presidential campaign the day after Wisconsin's electoral contest.

CBS News projected Biden won the Wisconsin primary and received 42 pledged delegates, putting him at 1,252 delegates.

Karofsky will serve a 10-year term on the Wisconsin state Supreme Court, and her upset of Kelly narrows the court's conservative majority to 4-3. 

"Over the past several months I've talked about the need to restore the public's confidence in our judicial system," she said in a statement. "With this victory, I look forward to the opportunity to show, with my actions on the court, that we have a judiciary that is following the rule of law and applying it to everyone in our state."

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