Daniel Kelly (Wisconsin judge)

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Daniel Kelly
Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
In office
August 1, 2016 – July 31, 2020
Appointed byScott Walker
Preceded byDavid Prosser, Jr.
Succeeded byJill Karofsky
Personal details
Born (1964-02-25) February 25, 1964 (age 57)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
EducationCarroll University (BA)
Regent University (JD)
WebsiteCampaign website

Daniel Kelly (born February 25, 1964) is an American attorney and former judge who served as a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice from August 1, 2016 through August 1, 2020.[1] He was appointed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to fill the unexpired term of Justice David Prosser.[2] Before he was appointed by Walker, Kelly was a conservative attorney who defended Walker's legislation, including a 2011 redistricting plan that was struck down by the lower federal courts. The lower federal courts' decisions were reversed on appeal.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Santa Barbara, California, Kelly graduated from Carroll University and, in 1991, from the evangelical Christian Regent University School of Law, where he was founding editor-in-chief of the law review.[3] During Kelly's time at Regent, the law school was dominated by adherents of Dominion theology. [4]


Kelly is a commercial litigator and founding partner of Rogahn Kelly LLC.[5] Before starting the firm, Kelly was a shareholder at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, s.c. in Milwaukee. Kelly is a member of The Federalist Society, the Wisconsin State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and the President's Council of Carroll University. He has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Wisconsin Supreme Court.[6]

Kelly represented state Republicans in a federal trial over a lawsuit challenging the 2010 redrawing of legislative districts. Kelly was previously vice president and general counsel for the Kern Family Foundation, a philanthropic family foundation that invests in programs to support entrepreneurship, education, work, and character.[7]

Wisconsin Supreme Court[edit]

After the announcement of the nearing retirement of Justice Prosser, in 2016, Kelly was appointed by Governor Scott Walker to serve as a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Under Wisconsin law, the seat would come up for election on the next spring election when no other Wisconsin Supreme Court seat was up for election.[8] Justice Kelly ran for a full term on the court when it came up for election in 2020, but was defeated by Wisconsin Circuit Court judge Jill Karofsky. Justice Kelly's term in office ended July 31, 2020.[9]

On his defeat, Kelly said, "It has been the highest honor of my career to serve the people of Wisconsin on their Supreme Court these past four years. Obviously I had hoped my service would continue for another decade, but tonight’s results make clear that God has a different plan for my future."[10]

Kelly has stated that he is considering another run for Wisconsin Supreme Court if Chief Justice Patience D. Roggensack does not seek another term.[11] Roggensack's current term expires in 2023, when she will be 83 years old.


After Obama's 2012 re-election win, Kelly said his re-election was a win for the “socialism/same-sex marriage/recreational marijuana/tax increase crowd.”[12] Kelly has likened Social Security to slavery.[12] He has argued that U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, was illegitimate.[12] In 2014, Kelly wrote that slavery and affirmative action were, under the law, morally the same. Kelly wrote that both institutions "spring from the same taproot" and that "neither can exist without the foundational principle that it is acceptable to force someone into an unwanted economic relationship."[13]

Since leaving the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Kelly has been vocal in his criticism of his former colleague, conservative justice Brian Hagedorn, for breaking with the court's conservative majority on several decisions.[11] Kelly accused Hagedorn of trying to maintain a political neutrality when considering the implications of his rulings.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Kelly is married and has five children. Kelly and his family reside in North Prairie, Wisconsin.

Electoral history[edit]

Kelly was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Governor Scott Walker in 2016 for a term expiring in 2020.[14] He lost his bid for election to a full term on the court to Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky. Justice Kelly had been endorsed by President Donald Trump.[15]

Wisconsin Supreme Court Election, 2020[16]
Party Candidate Votes %
Primary Election, February 18, 2020
Nonpartisan Daniel Kelly (incumbent) 352,876 50.04%
Nonpartisan Jill J. Karofsky 261,783 37.13%
Nonpartisan Ed Fallone 89,184 12.65%
n/a Scattering 1,295 0.18%
Total votes 705,138 100.0%
General Election, April 7, 2020
Nonpartisan Jill J. Karofsky 856,344 55.28%
Nonpartisan Daniel Kelly (incumbent) 692,731 44.72%
Total votes 1,549,075 100.0%


  1. ^ Beck, Molly (July 23, 2016). "Scott Walker picks Waukesha lawyer Daniel Kelly for seat on Supreme Court | Politics and Elections". host.madison.com. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  2. ^ Walker, Scott (July 22, 2016). "Governor Walker Appoints Daniel Kelly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court". Urban Milwaukee. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  3. ^ "Regent University School of Law Alumnus Selected to Supreme Court of Wisconsin". November 22, 2016.
  4. ^ Cox, Harvey (November 1995). "The Warring Visions of the Religious Right". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved August 4, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Wisconsin Court System Biography". Wisconsin Court System. State of Wisconsin. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  7. ^ Shah, Haleema (July 25, 2016). "Walker Appoints Justice Daniel Kelly To Wisconsin Supreme Court". Wpr.org. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  8. ^ "Gov. Scott Walker appoints attorney Dan Kelly to Wisconsin Supreme Court". FOX6Now.com. July 22, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  9. ^ Epstein, Reid J. (April 13, 2020). "Jill Karofsky Wins Wisconsin Supreme Court Race in a Boost for Liberals". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  10. ^ Paukner, Michaela (April 14, 2020). "Walker judicial appointees fail to keep seats, plus more judicial election results". Wisconsin Law Journal. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Ferral, Katelyn (December 24, 2020). "The outlier: Brian Hagedorn explains why he breaks rank with other state Supreme Court conservatives". The Capital Times. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c Journal, Riley Vetterkind | Wisconsin State. "As election nears, COVID-19 pandemic highlights judicial style of Supreme Court candidates". madison.com. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  13. ^ Beck, Molly. "Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly seeks 10-year term on court". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  14. ^ "Gov. Walker Picks Dan Kelly to Replace Justice Prosser on Supreme Court". WisBar. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  15. ^ Epstein, Reid J. (April 13, 2020). "Upset Victory in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Gives Democrats a Lift". The New York Times. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Canvass Results for 2020 Spring Primary (PDF) (Report). Wisconsin Elections Commission. February 18, 2020. p. 1. Retrieved March 10, 2020.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
David Prosser, Jr.
Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
August 1, 2016 – July 31, 2020
Succeeded by
Jill Karofsky