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Rail Companies Are Finally Giving Workers Paid Sick Days. This Isn’t Close to the End of the Fight.

Note to the government: Don’t ease up on the pressure now.

Nick Hagen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A derailed Norfolk Southern train in Michigan, February 18

While the public is coming to understand how dangerously deregulated the railroad industry is, rail companies themselves are desperately trying to ward off regulation by finally giving workers the necessary benefits. In doing so, though, the companies reveal they could’ve done this of their own volition this whole time.

In the weeks since the disastrous February 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as more details come to light on how threadbare rail regulation is, and how much of that is thanks to the close relationship between industry and government, companies have coincidentally begun announcing new benefits for workers.

On Wednesday, Norfolk Southern, whose train derailed in East Palestine, reached an agreement with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, or BMWED, to provide some 3,000 workers with four days of paid sick leave, and the ability to designate up to three paid personal leave days as paid sick leave.

On Monday, workers at Union Pacific announced an agreement between the company and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, or NCFO, and Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, or BRC. Effective April 1, the NCFO agreement prorates the deal to give workers three days of sick leave this year, and the regular four beginning in 2024; the NCFO members can use the paid sick time in half or full-day increments. BRC members, moreover, will have the ability to designate personal leave days for sick leave. In total, 2,100 Union Pacific workers will have gained the benefits.

On February 7, railroad company CSX reached agreements with the BMWED and BRC for four paid sick days, with another three paid personal leave days offered; the agreement also gives workers the option to dedicate unused paid sick leave to their 401(k) or to receive it in a payout. On February 10, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM, and NCFO joined the agreement; on February 14, the IAM Roadway Mechanics division and BRC Carmen for Fruit Growers Express Company division signed on as well. The eight other unions are said to be signing on eventually as well; for now, some 6,000 workers will gain the new benefits.

The cascading agreements, with suggestions of more to come with other unions, is a good thing; workers are finally earning some of the baseline protections and benefits they deserve, ones the government failed in bipartisan fashion to advocate for previously. However, these incredibly late voluntary decisions to finally relent to workers’ demands shows how they could’ve given these workers such benefits even without government regulation or public pressure—but they never did.

Meanwhile, railroad companies are still getting away with a myriad of other things—too big of trains with too little staff; using outdated braking and safety systems, minimizing inspections and audits; and more. Accordingly, the pressure shouldn’t dissipate, but rather increase.

Rail workers (who have been proven right in their warnings of disasters like that in East Palestine) are rallying for complete public ownership of rails. There is widespread, cross-partisan public support for finally clamping down on these corporate freebooters. Now is a moment demanding to be seized. While these companies pretend to tap their brakes, the government would do well to call their bluff and proceed to full throttle.

No, the Georgia Grand Juror’s Media Tour on Trump Hasn’t Doomed the Case

Emily Kohrs’s comments on the case aren’t the end.

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A media tour this week by the forewoman for the Georgia special grand jury on Donald Trump’s actions after the 2020 election has raised concerns across the board, especially after reports that the former president’s team might use her comments to block possible indictments.

Emily Kohrs gave five interviews to media outlets over the last two days, during which she discussed parts of the special grand jury’s report, including indictment recommendations. She stopped short of saying who exactly had been recommended but said people won’t be “too surprised” by who’s on the list.

Her comments raised widespread concerns that Trump’s legal team could use them to crush any possible charges. CBS News reported Thursday that lawyers were preparing to argue that Kohrs had corrupted the legal process.

Two of Trump’s lawyers told The New York Times that Kohrs had “poisoned” the pool of potential jurors of a potential regular grand jury, which would issue the criminal indictments. They also slammed her “flippant, jovial, almost disrespectful approach” to the investigation in general.

Trump himself took aim at the forewoman, calling the special grand jury a “strictly political continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt of all time.”

“Now you have an extremely energetic young woman, the (get this!) “foreperson” of the Racist D.A.’s Special Grand Jury, going around and doing a Media Tour revealing, incredibly, the Grand Jury’s inner workings & thoughts. This is not JUSTICE, this is an illegal Kangaroo Court,” he wrote Wednesday on Truth Social.

“All I did is make TWO PERFECT PHONE CALLS!!!”

Many legal experts agreed, however, that Kohrs’s comments are unlikely to affect the outcome of the case. She didn’t give away any confidential information, and the grand jury can only recommend indictments. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will make the final call on whether to bring charges against people. Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution, tweeted that the Trump team’s attempts to use Kohrs’s media tour to quash indictments was “not gonna work.”

But legal experts also agreed that what Kohrs did was unprecedented and incredibly inappropriate. “Kohrs’s media tour isn’t helpful, and feeds into Trump’s argument that the grand jury investigation is a political witch hunt by a Democratic district attorney and the left-leaning mainstream media,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Newsweek.

Former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich called Kohrs a “reckless idiot” on Twitter, while Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, told MSNBC that in his 25-year career, he had never seen a grand juror of any kind speak out the way she has.

Trump, Who Deregulated the Railroad Industry, Lies to the People of Ohio in His Visit

Asked about his administration’s own record, Trump pretended he had nothing to do with it.

Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Almost three weeks after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials in Ohio, twice-impeached former President Donald Trump visited and lied to the people of East Palestine, all to score a few photo ops.

Appearing alongside Senator JD Vance, Trump kept his public remarks short, focusing mainly on securing his photo ops, dropping in the occasional quip about Biden visiting Ukraine one year after it was invaded by Russia, and claiming that Biden and FEMA said “they would not send federal aid to East Palestine under any circumstance,” which is not true.

When later asked by a reporter about his administration overturning an Obama-era rule requiring better braking systems for trains carrying hazardous materials, he lied again, saying his administration had nothing to do with it.

Trump otherwise kept his visit brief, allowing the cameras to focus on his organized donations of “Trump water,” “much lesser quality water,” and other goods to the community, in order to avoid actual accountability for his role in leading up to disasters like that in East Palestine. Indeed, during his presidency, Trump oversaw numerous corporate-friendly deregulatory measures that made railroads less safe for the public, and more profitable for companies like Norfolk Southern.

With his party buttressed by millions of dollars in donations and lobbying from companies like Norfolk Southern, Trump overturned an Obama-era rule that required more adequate braking systems for trains carrying highly flammable and hazardous materials (instead of the Civil War-era brakes trains use now). He pulled a stalled Obama-era proposal that would have directed companies to have at least two-man crews on trains and banned states from instating such a requirement themselves. He also halted an auditing program of railroads that has since been revitalized by the Biden administration.

Much of these regulatory slashes were made at the behest of special interests like the Association of American Railroads, which represents massive corporations like Norfolk Southern and heavily lobbied for the deregulatory cornucopia that Trump provided.

Trump also tapped someone with deep ties to the chemical industry to head the EPA’s chemical safety and pollution prevention office.

He also appointed someone who spent five years in a senior role at the American Chemistry Council—the foremost lobbying organization for chemical manufacturers like Dupont, Monsanto, and Exxon—to the same office. Beck proceeded to try weakening proposed protections against carcinogenic PFAS chemicals in drinking water supplies and consumer products; rewrite EPA rules to downplay how worker exposure to asbestos would factor into whether the cancer-causing mineral poses an “unreasonable risk”; and slash proposed Obama-era rules to protect workers and the public from the chemical TCE, which is linked to cancer, fetal heart defects, liver and kidney toxicity.

EPA staffing overall went down under Trump.

Of course, as The New Republic has previously reported, the blame for a dangerous industry that leads to over 1,000 train derailments a year is cross-partisan. Railroad companies inject millions of dollars into both parties—leading to deregulation of the rail industry, state Republicans in Ohio unwilling to promptly accept federal help, and a Democratic administration that has not properly advocated for rail workers or and advanced much needed rail regulation.

The common denominator of it all is a conservative politics that argues that the government is weak, and therefore weakens the government in order to prove it at all. So, as Trump visits East Palestine, and as fellow deregulation-chasing Republicans (and even conservative Democrats) may posture themselves as the benevolent voices on the issue, may we not allow them to weasel off the hook so easily.

Why Is Vivek Ramaswamy Even Running for President?

The Harvard and Yale grad wants us to believe that the biggest problem in America is wokeism.

Vivek Ramaswamy speaks at CPAC (the giant letters are behind him) and makes hand gestures
Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Multimillionaire Vivek Ramaswamy is running for president. The 37-year-old former biotechnology executive announced his run Tuesday night on Tucker Carlson’s show.

“We are in the middle of this national identity crisis, Tucker, where we have celebrated our diversity and our differences for so long, that we forgot all the ways we’re really just the same, as Americans, bound by a common set of ideals that set this nation into motion 250 years ago,” Ramaswamy pontificated. “And that’s why I’m proud to say tonight that I’m running for United States president, to revive those ideals in this country.”

Ramaswamy is among the growing array of elite-educated Republicans like Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance who purport to be speaking to deeper truths plaguing America that are completely unrelated to the actual material conditions of the people. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Ramaswamy has a long resume, co-founding and leading technology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as an asset management firm backed by Vance and billionaire investor Peter Thiel.

Beyond crusading against companies for investing in environmental, social, and governance activities, Ramaswamy has focused much of his campaign on “wokeism,” the right wing’s catchall term for anything they don’t like. His early campaign signs, instead of offering a vision of hope or collective material uplift, simply say “Stop Wokeness. Vote Vivek.” He is the author of two books on American culture being plagued by “wokeness” and victimhood culture. His entire project, as his announcement on insurrection-inciting Fox News indicates, is to cut through these dynamics that allegedly divide and weaken America’s shared identity and replace them with a revitalized sense of original American exceptionalism. (Nevermind that America’s original “ideals” were constructed by slave owners who did not even pretend to treat women or non-white people as equal.)

When asked about actual policies he’d push for as president, Ramaswamy focused much of his attention on enacting stricter immigration rules and ending affirmative action to “put the merit back in America.” His focus on wokeness supersedes all else. In this way, he falls in line with much of the Republican Party, with its incessant attacks on schools and libraries, under the guise of “defending” against this supposed ideology.

Further explaining his candidacy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Ramaswamy described kitchen-table policies like releasing “state action files” à la Elon Musk’s Twitter files. He continued his very in-touch discussion by arguing that Americans find “meaning” in “secular religions like climatism, Covidism, and gender ideology,” and “the woke agenda.” Beyond dismissing issues like climate change as millions worry about environmental impacts after the East Palestine train derailment, Ramaswamy himself is advancing an uncritical glorifying doctrine, one that worships historically nonexistent sacred common American ideals.

Ramaswamy becomes the second Republican after Nikki Haley to announce a challenge against twice-impeached former President Donald Trump. A number of other Republicans have indicated strong interest in running; the 2024 GOP primary, already befallen by the party’s absurd topics of focus, will likely be all the more anarchic given how crowded it may come to be.

Perhaps Ramaswamy understands the basic, fundamental tensions underlying his candidacy, and is just doing it all disingenuously; maybe he’s seeking to become the next person of color to gain more success and wealth by appealing to white conservative fantasy. Or he’s actually gullible enough to buy into lazy narratives about American exceptionalism—ideas he may present as bold truths others are afraid to say, but have indeed been defining features of the status quo of America since its founding.

Possibly, it’s all just a game to the college debater, a way to win an argument he has no business winning. “I consider myself a contrarian,” Ramaswamy told The Harvard Crimson long ago. “I like to argue.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Outright Talking About Civil War Now

A reminder that Greene sits on the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees.

Split screen on Fox News / Sean Hannity on the left, Marjorie Taylor Greene on the right
Screenshot/Fox News

Marjorie Taylor Greene has called for a “national divorce,” voter suppression, and now seemingly civil war, appeals made all the more concerning by the key committee positions she holds in Congress.

In an interview Tuesday night with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, the Georgia representative lamented the fact that the country was so polarized and her “way of life” was under attack from the left.

“The last thing I ever want to see in America is a civil war,” she said. “But it’s going that direction, and we have to do something about it.”

In the same segment, Hannity also said he couldn’t see another option aside from splitting up the country, touting supposed benefits including continued fossil fuel use, paper-only ballots, and full state control of public education.

Greene’s outrageous comments came just hours after she told Charlie Kirk that Democratic voters who move to Republican-controlled states should lose the right to vote for five years. The day before that, she tweeted that the U.S. “[needs] a national divorce.”

Her borderline seditious rhetoric is made all the more frightening by the fact that Greene sits on several powerful committees in the House of Representatives, including the Oversight and Homeland Security committees. She earned those appointments through a shrewd rebrand, during which she allied herself closely with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but her true colors seem to be coming back out. McCarthy has yet to speak publicly on Greene’s comments.

Despite her complaints about divisive “abuse” from the left, Greene has shared conspiracy theories, peddled racist and antisemitic beliefs, and helped incite the January 6 riot. And when she talks about “our way of life” being under attack, it’s a pretty safe bet she doesn’t mean a way of life that includes equal rights for all.

Mississippi Passes Cruel Bill Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Minors

The bill would block health insurance from covering gender-affirming care and put physicians at risk of having their licenses revoked.

A close-up of someone's T-shirt, which has a trans flag with the text "Protect Trans Kids."
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Mississippi Senate passed a bill Tuesday banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, the latest in a torrent of anti-trans legislation across the United States.

The bill is now headed to the desk of Governor Tate Reeves, who is expected to sign the bill, having expressed opposition to trans rights multiple times. If the bill becomes law, it will ban transition-related care for people under 18 and defund any public institutions that provide it.

The bill will block health insurance from covering gender-affirming care for minors, and Medicaid from reimbursing or covering the procedures. Physicians could have their licenses revoked for providing such care, and anyone claiming to have experienced harm by those doctors would be allowed to sue them for up to 30 years after the event.

The bill will also ban gender confirmation surgeries. But as the Mississippi Free Press noted, House lawmakers admitted while voting on the bill in January that they were not aware of any trans state residents receiving such surgeries.

LGBTQ rights groups slammed the bill. “No children are undergoing surgeries in this state. There are not even options for bottom (genital) surgeries for adults in this state. And anyone under 18 who is placed on gender-affirming medication undergoes a thorough and lengthy multidisciplinary evaluation prior to ever reaching the point of taking medication, during which time parents are always involved,” said Stacie Pace, a doctor at Spectrum: The Other Clinic.

“This problem [lawmakers] perceive with trans youth getting procedures done simply doesn’t exist.”

Rob Hill, the state director of Human Rights Campaign Mississippi, also criticized the Republican lawmakers who passed the bill. “Politicians who don’t have an ounce of medical training are interfering with our rights as parents and acting as if they know how to raise and support our children better than we do,” he said.

“Attacking LGBTQ+ Mississippians will not solve any problems or make life easier for working folks in this state. The only thing it will accomplish is to further demonize and alienate transgender kids.”

Mississippi’s bill is the third measure banning gender-affirming care for minors this year alone, after Utah and South Dakota. All three bills are part of an absolute deluge of anti-trans legislation across the country, from bills banning coverage of care to forbidding trans girls from playing in girls’ sports.

Lawmakers usually argue they are implementing such legislation to protect children, but a study published in January found that trans and nonbinary teenagers who receive gender-affirming care have significantly less depression and anxiety and more satisfaction with their lives than before treatment.

The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that almost 70 percent of participants who experienced severe depression saw it drop to moderate or even minimal levels after two years of hormone therapy. Participants who had mild depression experienced subclinical levels after treatment. And almost 40 percent of participants who had clinical anxiety saw it fall to the nonclinical range after treatment.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Says She Wants to Manipulate People’s Votes

Greene’s latest proposal is to block Democrats’ right to vote if they move from a blue state to a red one.

Marjorie Taylor Greene stands outside the Capitol.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

After seditiously calling for a “national divorce,” Marjorie Taylor Greene is now suggesting red states go ahead and block Democrats’ right to vote if they moved there from a blue state, because their values are just too different.

Greene illustrated her tyrannical vision on Charlie Kirk’s show on Tuesday.

“Red states can choose in how they allow people to vote in their states,” Greene started, after Kirk asked, in casually fascist fashion, how to “stop” the left from “trying to invade our states or our counties.”

“What I think would be something that some red states could propose is: well, okay, if Democrat voters choose to flee these blue states where they cannot tolerate the living conditions, they don’t want their children taught these horrible things, and they really change their mind on the types of policies that they support, well once they move to a red state, guess what, maybe you don’t get to vote for five years,” Greene said. “You can live there, and you can work there, but you don’t get to bring your values that you basically created in the blue states you came from by voting for Democrat leaders and Democrat policies.”

Yes, Greene and her far-right contemporaries often express and advocate for many, at best absurd, at worst fascist, ideas. But take one moment to consider what would happen if any Democrat suggested this notion: that any individual moving away from a red state into a blue state would have to wait five years to vote. That, unless you agree with us, you’re not allowed to participate in electing the representatives who would hold power over you.

“...This would be up to red states to be able to choose to do something like that, so that their red states don’t get changed,” Greene continued. “Which is what’s happening, unfortunately, when Democrat voters leave their Democrat states and they take their Democrat votes with them.”

Beyond being remarkably authoritarian, Greene’s comments don’t even seem coherent. Greene apparently forgets her own state has two Democratic senators (some may even risk calling this a “blue state”), and that, under her dream dictatorial proposition, people who move from blue states to red states, could, in fact, be conservatives too.

Greene has complained over and over again about Democrats apparently trying to “divide” America. Meanwhile, she has—among her history of racism, antisemitism, and inciting an attack on the Capitol—now called for a second secession and for red states to be able to control how people vote. Not exactly the recipe for a unifier, or really someone who should even still have a job in a body meant to serve everyone in this country, and not just the people she likes.

EPA Finally Beginning to Hold Norfolk Southern Accountable After Ohio Train Derailment

The Environmental Protection Agency is demanding the rail company responsible clean contaminated water and soil, and pick up the tab on all cleanup expenses.

Michael Swensen/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, seized the reins of the cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio, after the disastrous Norfolk Southern train derailment that left thousands of residents sick and distrustful of the company’s remediation efforts. The EPA is also directing Norfolk Southern to pick up the tab on all cleanup expenses.

“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.”

The EPA directs Norfolk Southern to pursue all available avenues to clean contaminated water and soil, pay for any EPA expenses (including the cleaning services the agency will provide to community members), participate in public meetings, and publish relevant information online for the public. The EPA warned that if Norfolk Southern fails to comply, the agency would do the work itself and then seek triple the cost from the company.

Regan added that he understands the order “cannot undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living with, but it will begin to deliver much-needed comfort for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused.”

While air tests thus far have mostly come back with no concerning levels of vinyl chloride or other contaminants from the train, residents are still concerned about further consistent testing, as well as more stringent testing of the water and soil; swaths of residents are still reporting symptoms, and reports of soiled waterways carrying dead creatures continue.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to Norfolk Southern, warning too that the company must “demonstrate unequivocal support” for the community and surrounding areas.

“Norfolk Southern must live up to its commitment to make residents whole—and must also live up to its obligation to do whatever it takes to stop putting communities such as East Palestine at risk,” Buttigieg said. “This is the right time for Norfolk Southern to take a leadership position within the rail industry, shifting to a posture that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation.”

Buttigieg called some of these regulatory policies out by name, and how the rail industry has lobbied to weaken them: higher safety standards for trains carrying hazardous materials, electronic braking system for those trains, and a now-delayed deadline for instituting more durable rail cars for hazardous materials. He also said he will call on Congress to raise the cap on fines against railroads for violating regulations. Buttigieg’s letter seemed to be cognizant of the myriad of ways corporations have bought government support for deregulation, which is welcome news.

The White House has so far hesitated to take the lead on updating these regulations for fear of pushback from the rail industry. Buttigieg’s letter, too, ended with a rather ambiguous pledge: “Soon I will be laying out several steps that Norfolk Southern, and all major railroads, should take immediately to improve rail safety for workers and communities—in addition to prioritized actions planned at our department in furtherance of our safety mission.” It will be seen whether Buttigieg will actually reinstate much-needed regulations, whittled away by rail corporations, and solidify a pathway toward a safer railroad industry.

Donald Trump Says All Presidential Candidates Should Take “Mental Competency” Tests

As we all know, he would definitely ace that test.

Donald Trump makes a weird face on stage. A podium in front of him has a sign that reads "New Hampshire Republican Party."
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Donald Trump thinks every presidential candidate should have to take a mental competency test, which, as we all know, he would ace.

Trump’s comment Tuesday was in response to Nikki Haley’s proposal for mandatory mental competency tests for all politicians older than 75, a clear dig at both Trump, 76, and President Joe Biden, 80.

“ANYBODY running for the Office of President of the United States should agree to take a full & complete Mental Competency Test simultaneously (or before!) with the announcement that he or she is running, & likewise, but to a somewhat lesser extent, agree to a test which would prove that you are physically capable of doing the job,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Being an outstanding President requires great mental acuity & physical stamina. If you don’t have these qualities or traits, it is likely you won’t succeed. MAGA!”

The former president is no stranger to mental competency tests. He went viral in the summer of 2020 when he bragged repeatedly about doing well on such an exam. Trump said one of the questions involved hearing a series of words and then repeating those words back. As a hypothetical example, he said the series could be, “Person, woman, man, camera, TV.”

Trump clearly thought he had taken a test that provided further proof of his being a “very stable genius.” As it turns out, he actually took the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which is usually administered to someone suspected of experiencing dementia or other cognitive declines. A perfect score on that test only shows the test-taker is not cognitively impaired.

As for Haley’s suggestion, not only is it ageist, but it’s also not that great a suggestion. Three geriatric health experts told Slate that the aging process varies from person to person, so a mental competency test won’t necessarily provide useful results.

There are huge individual differences in how people age. Some are sharp as a tack at 90 or 100, some have cognitive impairment in their 50s,” explained Carolyn Aldwin, the director of the gerontology program at Oregon State University.

A mental competency test also won’t measure leadership or diplomacy skills.

It would seem that Haley’s proposal isn’t really intended to change policy, but more to make her stand out from her opponents. At 51, she’s currently the youngest presidential candidate. But that can’t be her only thing.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Election: The Big Race You May Not Know About

An election for a seat on the state’s Supreme Court is turning into an expensive and high-stakes battle, with massive implications for abortion, voting rights, and democracy.

A bunch of people hold signs in the rotunda. In the forefront is a sign that reads "I love someone who had an abortion."
Sara Stathas/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Abortion rights supporters rally in the rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol on January 22, 2022.

Wisconsin voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to determine which two candidates will proceed to compete for an open seat on the state Supreme Court. What may seem like a very specific statewide race in fact has massive implications for abortion, voting rights, and even national democracy.

The departure of a conservative judge, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, has left both parties eager to seize her spot. While the election is technically “nonpartisan,” conservatives are aiming to defend their slim 4–3 majority on the court while Democrats hope to flip control for the first time in 15 years.

Such high stakes mean this could soon be the most expensive race of the year, with some estimating the race’s spending to exceed $30 million. (The previously most expensive race for a single state Supreme Court seat involved $15.2 million spent in a 2004 Illinois race.)

Almost $8 million has already been spent on the primary. Four candidates—two liberals and two conservatives—are vying to move on to the final round of the election. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz has become the leading Democratic candidate, netting some $2.3 million since entering the race. Her fellow liberal Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell has raised about $223,000. Conservatives are backing Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow and former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, who lost his seat in 2020 to a liberal justice. Neither conservative candidate has surpassed $1 million in fundraising.

The stakes are all the higher as the rest of Wisconsin’s government branches are split. Democrat Tony Evers holds the governorship, while Republicans maintain control in the legislature; the gerrymander-enabled Republican legislature has proven to be an incredibly difficult obstacle for the agenda of a governor who was just reelected statewide. Republicans hold two-thirds of the state Senate and nearly two-thirds of the state Assembly, even while Democrats won the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general races in 2022.

The court is set to hear major cases, including a lawsuit from Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul against Wisconsin’s abortion ban that was activated after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The court is also expected to rule on the heavily gerrymandered maps that have kept conservatives in control of the swing state since 2010. (Bear in mind, in 2016, Trump won the state by just about 23,000 votes; in 2020, Biden won by some 20,000 votes himself.)

The court will also hold a crucial role in the 2024 elections given Wisconsin’s swing state status, especially so if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. While the court has largely ruled in favor of conservatives on contentious questions (like banning absentee ballot drop boxes or slashing public sector union power), it narrowly ruled 4–3 to reject a Trump lawsuit that sought to overturn his 2020 loss in the state. Basic democracy narrowly survived in 2020; there’s no guarantee it would fare as well in 2024.