Governor Scott Walker has appointed Daniel Kelly, a Milwaukee attorney, to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Kelly will fill the vacancy created by Justice David Prosser, whose retirement is effective July 31.
“Daniel Kelly is an exceptionally accomplished trial and appellate attorney who has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Governor Walker said. “His extensive real world experience, combined with his intellect and integrity, make him well-suited to be an influential member of the Court.”
Kelly beat out two other finalists who did possess judicial experience, appeals court judges Mark Gundrum and Thomas Hruz.
The 52-year-old Kelly serves on the litigation advisory board for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative group that has filed lawsuits defending several of Walker’s most contentious proposals.
Kelly wrote in application materials he submitted to Walker that same-sex marriage robs the institution of meaning, and that affirmative action can be likened to slavery. During a joint press conference with Walker on Friday, Kelly insisted that his political views will not factor into his decisions as a justice.
“The role of the courts is separate and apart from our roles as individuals in the broader society,” Kelly said. “There needs to be a bright line distinction between the role of the court on the one hand, and on the other, personal, political and political philosophy beliefs. In order to foster confidence that the court will not be importing personal beliefs into the work it does, I think it’s inappropriate for a justice to comment publicly on their political beliefs or political philosophy. The primary and only job of a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice is to apply the law as it is written.”
Kelly is the founder of the Rogahn Kelly law firm. He is president of the Milwaukee chapter of the conservative Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. He also and formerly served as vice president and general counsel for the Kern Family Foundation, which has donated money to Republican candidates and causes.
“This is what the state’s highest court comes down to under Governor Walker, giving appointments to the preferred candidate of his biggest pipelines to campaign money,” said Scot Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now.
Representative Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), an attorney and ranking Democratic member of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, issued a statement regarding Kelly’s appointment.
“To say that I’m disappointed in Governor Walker’s appointment of Dan Kelly would be an understatement. Kelly has said that affirmative action is the moral equivalent of slavery. He condemned the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down bans on same-sex marriages, and stated that legalizing same-sex marriages has robbed the institution of marriage of any meaning. In court, he defended the Legislative Republicans in their likely unconstitutional gerrymandered redrawing of the state’s legislative districts.”
Walker said he had requested Kelly’s writings on same-sex marriage and affirmative action. “I asked for it, because I want full disclosure of writings and background,” Walker said, adding that he has a clear litmus test for judicial appointments. “Someone who has understanding of the law, someone who has integrity in their position but more importantly in their life, and someone who understands that the sole role of the judiciary is to uphold the constitution of this state and of this country, and the laws.”
Kelly earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Carroll University in Waukesha and a Juris Doctor from Regent University in Virginia.