Republican former state attorney general running for Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2025

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel speaks during his inauguration ceremony at the Capitol in Madison, Wis., Jan. 5, 2015.

Former Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced on Thursday that he will run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2025, challenging liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in an election that could again shift the court’s balance.

Schimel served as attorney general from 2015 to 2019 under former Gov. Scott Walker. After just one term, he lost reelection in 2018 to Josh Kaul, and Walker appointed Schimel to the Waukesha County Circuit Court.

He is the first conservative to announce a bid for the court since liberals gained a majority in August 2023. Bradley, who is the current court’s longest-serving member, is expected to run for a fourth 10-year term.

Before serving as attorney general, Schimel was the Waukesha County district attorney, and he has a long record as a conservative.

While attorney general, he filed a lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act; defended anti-abortion policies; was criticized for his inaction on the state’s backlog of rape kits; defended the GOP-controlled Legislature’s gerrymandered maps; enforced few environmental cases against polluters; supported Wisconsin’s voter ID laws, saying they led to former President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016; opposed gun safety efforts; and suggested that teachers should be allowed to be armed in schools. 

“In his tenure as attorney general, he was much more interested, I think, in furthering the conservative Republican agenda than he was in acting in any sort of independent capacity, because I think he had political ambitions,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler called Schimel the state’s worst attorney general, saying that he “doesn’t deserve a promotion to our highest court.”

“Wisconsinites rejected Brad Schimel after a single term as Attorney General because his extreme politics and inept mismanagement became too great to ignore, with thousands of rape kits untested at the State Crime Lab and millions of dollars wasted on partisan efforts to suppress voting rights and push new restrictions on abortion access,” he said.

Schimel has also blurred ethical lines while serving in nonpartisan judicial roles. In 2017 he attended a GOP event at Mar-a-Lago with Trump; in 2020 he emceed a fundraiser for a Ozaukee County Republican fundraiser with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson; and that same year he attended a Trump rally in Waukesha, though he emphasized he had attended as an individual and a Trump supporter. A video shows Schimel reacting enthusiastically to Trump’s speech at the 2016 GOP convention, saying, “He’s making the right promises of things we need to do as a country, and I believe he’s going to keep those promises.”

The challenge to the court’s political alignment comes at a time when the high court is being tapped to resolve more political disputes in the state, from private school vouchers to gerrymandering, and likely abortion.

It is an early start to what is expected to be a closely watched and hotly contested race, though it’s likely to stay at a simmer until after the 2024 elections. The last Wisconsin Supreme Court race, between liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former Justice Dan Kelly, was the most expensive judicial race in American history.

Conservative Appeals Court Judge Maria Lazar has said she’s also weighing a bid for the Supreme Court. She previously worked under Schimel in the Department of Justice and was a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge. In 2022, she won election to District II of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, based in Waukesha.