Daniel Kelly

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly was a 2023 candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but lost. Kelly was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2016 by then-Governor Scott Walker, but lost his first election to the Court in 2020.[1] Prior to joining the court, Kelley was General Counsel and Vice President at the Kern Family Foundation, a founding partner and commercial litigator at the Milwaukee law firm Rogahn Kelly, and a lawyer at the Reinhart Boerner Van Duren law firm.[2][3] On May 28, 2019, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Kelly announced on a conservative talk radio show that he is seeking election for a ten year on the court.[4]

Kelly is deeply tied to Republicans and the Wisconsin right-wing infrastructure. In addition to his appointment by a Republican governor, he is the former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a member of the advisory panel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, has "praised two of the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative justice," and worked on the legal team that defended the 2011 Wisconsin gerrymander.[4]

ThinkProgress referred to Kelly as an "obscure lawyer with highly idiosyncratic views" when Walker appointed him to the court in part due to his statement that affirmative action and slavery "[m]orally, and as a matter of law [] are the same.”[5]

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Kelly's views on same-sex marriage and affirmative action will likely play a role in the campaign. Brian Hagedorn has announced his "full support" for Kelly and is expected to join him on campaign stops.[4]

News and Controversies

Kelly Employed by the Rightwing Bradley Foundation

In January 2023, it was reported by The Center for Media and Democracy that Judicial Candidate Dan Kelly received payment from The Bradley Foundation. The exact dollar amount of the payment is unknown, but IRS fillings require all income sources to be listed if the payment is in excess of $1,0000. This payment is just one of many that the foundation uses to weaponize its philanthropy nationwide to maintain and expand conservative infrastructure in the states. [6]

Right-Wing Anti-Abortion Group Endorses Kelly

Wisconsin Right to Life, a group that wants to criminalize abortion in Wisconsin, announced that it is endorsing Kelly.[7]

"This is not the first time the extremists at WRTL made a push to put Kelly on the state high court. In his 2016 application for appointment to the Supreme Court Kelly included a letter of recommendation from WRTL’s executive director in which she touted legal work he did for the organization as a private practice attorney," One Wisconsin Now noted.[7]

Friends of Justice Daniel Kelly Outraises Opponents' Campaigns in 2019

Kelly's Friends of Justice Daniel Kelly raised close to $800,000 in 2019, double his nearest challenger Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky who raised $348,602 in 2019, and over five times what Marquette University Law professor Ed Fallone brought in at $149,732, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported.[8]

"Billionaire Diane Hendricks of ABC Supply and her daughter Kim were the only two contributors to give $20,000 each to Kelly’s campaign in 2019, the maximum contribution allowed to a candidate for the state’s highest court in an election cycle. The CEO of Hendricks Holding Co., Brent Fox, also gave $10,000, bringing the total contributions from Hendricks’s inner circle to $50,000," CMD found.[8]

Tump Endorses Kelly

Trump endorsed Kelly at a campaign rally in Milwaukee on January 14, 2020, saying,

"Last spring, Wisconsin voters, as you know, elected a great judge to your state Supreme Court. This spring you have a chance to elect another terrific judge. Justice Daniel Kelly. Go vote for Justice Daniel Kelly to defend the rule of law in Wisconsin.”[9]

Kelly's 2020 Campaign Shares Same Address as Republican Party

On his nomination papers to get himself on the 2020 ballot for State Supreme Court, Daniel Kelly's campaign listed the same address as the Republican Party of Wisconsin headquarters. "According to Kelly’s campaign, signature collectors are directed to return their forms to 148 E. Johnson Street in Madison. The address of the Republican Party of Wisconsin headquarters is also 148 E. Johnson St., an office building they own and occupy blocks from the State Capitol," One Wisconsin Now found.[10]

Record of Judicial Extremism

Daniel Kelly's "tenure on the court has definitively" showed that he is a "judicial extremist" according to One Wisconsin Now (OWN) Research Director Joanna Beilman-Dulin. OWN cites the following opinions from Kelly as "as examples of his extremism in action":[11]

  • Requiring the City of Madison let people carry hidden weapons on city buses (Wisconsin Carry, Inc. v. City of Madison);
  • Refusing to require a pipeline company with a poor record of safety to carry additional insurance to protect citizens and clean water (Enbridge Energy Company, Inc. v. Dane County)
  • Allowing a right-wing college professor who harassed a student to get his job back even though his private employer suspended him over the incident and other alleged inappropriate behavior (John McAdams v. Marquette University)
  • Refusing to enforce the state open records law and allowing former right-wing Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to keep immigration detainment records secret (Voces de la Frontera, Inc. v. David A. Clarke, Jr.);
  • And opposing reforming court rules to set standards requiring judges with conflicts of interest to recuse from cases and voting to close court conferences to the public and media.

OWN also says Kelly has "thrown out the appearance of impartiality, taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from board members of an organization while it was arguing the case before him and immediately after he joined in ruling in their favor."[11]

Kelly's Comments on Judicial Activism Called Hypocritical

At a luncheon presented by the Pax Americana Institute, a conservative think tank, Kelly warned his audience to beware of judges looking to legislate from the bench.[12] One Wisconsin Now (OWN) Research Director Joanna Beilman-Dulin called Kelly's comments ironic, stating "Dan Kelly is warning Wisconsin to beware of him, based on his own actions on the bench.” OWN cited the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to side with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on the enforcement of the REINS Act. "The measure was nearly identical to the previously invalidated legislation" according to OWN. Kelly's colleague Justice Ann Walsh Bradley noted in her dissent that "nothing in our Constitution has changed" since the legislation was previously invalidated, "what has changed is the membership of the court. This time around, a new majority of this court does an about-face and now concludes that the substance of Act 57 is constitutional. To reach this conclusion, it throws the doctrine of stare decisis out the window.” Beilman-Dulin concluded, “Dan Kelly likes to speak and write grandiloquently about the imperilment of the judiciary by those he accuses of ‘legislating from the bench.’ In plain and straightforward language, legislating from the bench for the benefit of a right-wing political agenda is exactly what Dan Kelly has done.”[13]

Vote to uphold Wisconsin's "lame-duck laws"

Kelly joined the majority of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices in "handing Republicans a victory in one of several legal fights over the laws." The court's "conservatives, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Daniel Kelly and Annette Ziegler" rejected the request put forth by The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and Disability Rights Wisconsin to "declare all of the Legislature's December actions invalid, including the Senate's confirmation of 82 appointments made by GOP Gov. Scott Walker before he left office."[14] Previously, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled that “the [Wisconsin State] Legislature did not lawfully meet during its December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session,'” therefore violating Article IV of the constitution.[15]

Campaign Funding

Kelly raised close to $800,000 in 2019 for his 2020 election. Of this $800,000, 63 donors gave $326,883, or 41 percent of his total haul.[8]

Top Donors

As of December 31, 2019:[8]

  • Diane Hendricks, Owner and Chairperson of ABC Supply: $20,000
  • Kim Hendricks, Retired: $20,000
  • Craig Leipold, Owner of the Minnesota Wild: $11,000
  • Patrick J. English, CEO of Fiduciary Management: $10,500
  • William E. Barry, Owner of Speed Systems: $10,000
  • Brent A Fox, CEO of Hendricks Holding Co.: $10,000
  • David Ludington, Dentist: $10,000
  • Barbara A. Michels, Homemaker: $10,000
  • Kevin P. Michels, Vice President of Michels Corporation: $10,000
  • Patrick D. Michels, President of Michels Corporation: $10,000
  • Timothy J. Michels, Vice President of Michels Corporation: $10,000
  • Elizabeth A. Uihlein, CEO of Uline: $10,000
  • Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline: $10,000
  • Michael White, Chairman & Owner of Rite-Hite: $10,000
  • Fred Young, Retired: $10,000
  • Sandra Young, Retired: $10,000
  • Thomas Howlett: $7,500
  • James H. Schloemer, CEO of Continental Properties: $7,500
  • Terrence R. Wall, Real Estate Developer: $5,933
  • Keith Mardak, Chairman & CEO of Hal Leonard Corporation: $5,500
  • Ronald Buholzer, President of Klondike Cheese Co.: $5,000
  • Dwight E. Davis, Chairman of the Board, Greenheck Fan Corp.: $5,000
  • John Dykema, President of Campbell Wrapper: $5,000
  • Holly Jensen, Retired: $5,000
  • Ted Kellner, Retired: $5,000
  • Joseph C. Martin, Retired: $5,000
  • Grant E. Nelson, Retired: $5,000
  • Leighton J. Wilkie, Retired: $5,000
  • Thomas J. Nichols, Attorney at Meissner Tierney Fisher & Nichols: $4,000
  • Joseph S. Ellis, Retired: $3,500
  • Thomas A. Hollfelder, Retired: $3,500
  • Robert Atwell, Chairman & CEO and Nicolet National Bank: $2,500
  • Crystal Berg, Retired: $2,500
  • James J. Callan, Real Estate: $2,500
  • Richard E. Clack: CEO & President of Clack Corporation: $2,500
  • Michael T. Crowley, Jr., Retired: $2,500
  • Duane E. Foulkes, Founder at Apache Stainless: $2,500
  • Robert A. Kieckhefer, Managing Partner at The Kieckhefer Group: $2,500
  • Dale G. Mierow, Owner and President of Dale G. Mierow Homes: $2,500
  • John Skoug, CEO of Marathon Cheese Corp.: $2,500
  • Harold Smith, Retired: $2,500
  • Nancy A. Toll: $2,500
  • Carol Anne Carpenter, Retired: $2,350
  • Rex Gromer, Retired: $2,100
  • Perry Armstrong, CEO of Preferred Title: $2,000
  • Bernard E. Dahlin, President of Nichols Paper: $2,000
  • Jodeen Flaten, Retired: $2,000
  • Richard G. Gailing, Retired: $2,000
  • Michael Grebe, Chairman of the Board at the Bradley Impact Fund: $2,000
  • Adam Jarchow, President of Empower Wisconsin: $2,000
  • Donald F. Kress, Retired: $2,000
  • James Leef, President of ITU Inc.: $2,000
  • Dennis Markos, Retired: $2,000
  • James R. Mode, Retired: $2,000
  • Carol L. Taylor, President and CEO at Waukesha State Bank: $2,000
  • Kevin Tomera, Doctor: $2,000
  • Dan Vaughan, Engineer: $2,000
  • Andrew A. Zignego, Shop Manager at Zignego Company: $2,000
  • Daniel A. Zignego, Controller at Zignego Company: $2,000
  • Daniel V. Zignego, Project Supervisor at Zignego Company: $2,000
  • Jacob T. Zignego, Construction Supervisor at Zignego Company: $2,000
  • Peter Zignego, Executive at Zignego Company: $2,000


  1. Wisconsin Court System Justice Daniel Kelly Wisconsin State Government accessed June 13, 2019
  2. Daniel Kelly Daniel Kelly Profile Linkedin profile, accessed June 13, 2019
  3. Hamilton Walker Appoints Daniel Kelly to Wisconsin Supreme Court Hamilton Consulting Group, July 27, 2016
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Molly Beck Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly seeks 10-year term on court Milwaukee Journal Sentinel May 28, 2019
  5. IAN MILLHISER Scott Walker Just Put An Insane Person On His State’s Supreme Court ThinkProgress July 25, 2016
  6. David Armiak, [1], Right-Wing Bradley Foundation and Bradley-Funded Groups Paid Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Kelly in 2022, Exposed by CMD, January 11, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 One Wisconsin Now, Right-Wing Group That Wants to Criminalize Abortion Backs Dan Kelly State Supreme Court Campaign, One Wisconsin Now, January 15, 2020.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 David Armiak, Justice Kelly’s Campaign Haul for Wisconsin Supreme Court Seat Eclipses Opponents, ExposedByCMD, January 16, 2020.
  9. Republican State Leadership Committee, President Trump Supports Justice Daniel Kelly In Wisconsin Supreme Court Campaign, RSLC, January 15, 2020.
  10. One Wisconsin Now, Return to Sender: Dan Kelly’s State Court Campaign Lists Same Address As Republican Party of Wisconsin, One Wisconsin Now, December 11, 2019.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Mike Browne Dan Kelly’s Time on State High Court Answers the Question — Yes, He’s an Extremist One Wisconsin Now, August 1, 2019
  12. AP Kelly: Beware of judges looking to legislate from the bench Associated Press June 9, 2019
  13. Mike Browne Dan Kelly Warns Wisconsin to Beware of Justice Dan Kelly One Wisconsin Now, July 10, 2019
  14. Patrick Marley On 4-3 vote, Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds state's lame-duck laws limiting power of Democratic governor 'Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 21, 2019
  15. Mary Bottari and Scott Zimmerman Wisconsin GOP’s Lame-Duck Power Grab Ruled Unconstitutional ExposedbyCMD, March 21, 2018