Conservative Milwaukee Attorney Named to Wisconsin Supreme Court

July 22, 2016

Supreme Court of Wisconsin Seal

A conservative Milwaukee attorney who helped successfully defend controversial GOP-drawn legislative district maps in a 2012 federal court trial was appointed Friday to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The attorney, Daniel Kelly, replaces retiring Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who will leave the bench at the end of this month. Kelly will not have to run for a full 10-year term on the high court until 2020. Prosser was among the Supreme Court’s 5-2 conservative majority, which will remain intact with Kelly’s appointment.

Kelly initially requested anonymity, which is legal, when he was among the 11 applicants to Walker in May for the job. Kelly waived his anonymity request, which was criticized by open records advocates, after he became a finalist for the job last month.

Kelly was among several lawyers hired in 2012 by legislative Republicans to defend their legislative district maps. The mapping process, known as redistricting, is done every 10 years using U.S. Census figures to equally reapportion the population in legislative and congressional districts. Democrats have argued the maps passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Walker were drawn in secrecy to help Republicans get elected to the legislature and Congress and that some of the districts were improperly drawn. A decision on the legality of the maps is pending from another federal court trial concluded last month.

Kelly contributed about $2,700 between January 2004 and December 2015 to candidates for statewide office and the legislature. Top recipients include former GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, $1,310, and current Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, $500.

Before opening his own practice, Kelly worked for the Robert and Patricia Kern Family Foundation that has spent tens of millions of dollars on conservative causes such as school privatization and given large grants to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. The Kerns themselves are longtime contributors to Republican and conservative candidates and causes throughout the country. Kelly also worked for Reinhart, Boerner & Van Deuren, a Milwaukee law firm that frequently represents Republicans.

Kelly was also an adviser to state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley's successful campaign in the April elections. He also was an attorney for Prosser's campaign during a recount after Prosser narrowly won re-election in 2011.

Kelly’s biography also said he is associated with the conservative Federalist Society and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a Milwaukee-based law firm that initiates lawsuits or defends the conservative side on an array of public issues.