The circuit court judge rose to national fame during the trial of the Waukesha Parade attack perpetrator, becoming a subject of viral TikTok content and a recipient of fan mail from around the world.
Judge Jennifer Dorow, who became a national figure in a few short weeks as she presided over the trial last fall of the man accused of driving his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha in 2021, is now one of four candidates running for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Dorow presided over the trial of Darrell Brooks, the 40-year-old Milwaukee man who was found guilty in October 2022 on 76 counts stemming from the killing of six people and injuring of dozens, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, handing down six consecutive life sentences and multi-year sentences on other counts.
The trial garnered media attention in large part because of Brooks' decision to represent himself in court and his reliance on disruptive arguments. Admirers sent Dorow letters, wrote social media posts, and filmed TikTok videos praising the judge's poise and patience in the trial.
Dorow, who did not return multiple requests for comment from the American Independent Foundation, told the Associated Press: "I am not running for Supreme Court because of the Brooks case. I'm running because I believe I'm the best candidate to do the job."
The election will determine the ideological makeup of the court. Currently, conservatives hold a one-seat majority; a liberal victory would open the door for Democrats to challenge and potentially replace Wisconsin's heavily gerrymandered state legislative maps, which give Republicans a distinct advantage in elections. The court also could decide the fate of the abortion ban enacted in the state in 1849.
Under that law, the procedure is illegal except in cases of a threat to the pregnant person's life. While Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is challenging the law, promises by local prosecutors to enforce the ban led Planned Parenthood to cease offering abortion care in the state.
Dorow received her bachelor's degree in broadcast and electronic communications and graduated cum laude from Regent University School of Law, which was founded by right-wing activist and televangelist Pat Robertson. After graduating, Dorow worked as a criminal defense lawyer and assistant district attorney in Wisconsin, and she eventually opened her own private practice before former Gov. Scott Walker appointed her to the Waukesha County Circuit Court in 2011.
Dorow describes herself on her campaign website as "a judicial conservative who will not legislate from the bench." She is reportedly active in the Waukesha County Republican Party.
According to the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct, judges and candidates for judicial office cannot say how they would rule on issues that are likely to come before the court.
However, Dorow hasn't shied away from offering her opinion on past cases, telling right-wing radio host Joe Giganti that she agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization last year that overturned the constitutional right to abortion affirmed in Roe v. Wade.
As a circuit court judge, she has mostly ruled on lower-level criminal issues rather than broad matters of legal and constitutional interpretation that often come before the state's highest court. However, the judicial application she provided to Walker while contending for the vacancy on the Waukesha County Circuit Court provides some insight into her views.
In the application, Dorow said Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 ruling decriminalizing homosexual intercourse, was the worst decision in U.S. Supreme Court history.
She also praised Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, a 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that effectively freed the state Legislature from having to obey the state's open meetings law, which requires most governmental meetings to be open and accessible to the public — a blow for transparency in legislative decision-making.
Dorow has also expressed her opposition to cash bail, a policy position usually supported by liberals and one that became the focus of millions of dollars in attack ads aimed at Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes during last year's midterms.
In 2019, Dorow said, "Cash bail is not a best practice anymore" and proposed "a system that eliminates cash bail with a robust preventative detention coupled with statewide pre-trial services."
The other conservative candidate in the race for the open Supreme Court seat, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, argues that Dorow lacks experience. In an interview with Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN 12, Kelly said there's no evidence she's a true conservative justice.
Dorow and Kelly have raised nearly the same amount of money so far, just over $300,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Both trail Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the leading liberal candidate, who has raised $756,217.
Dorow has also nabbed the endorsements of three prominent Wisconsin conservatives: Michael Grebe, a Republican activist and businessman; Justice Patience D. Roggensack, the retiring justice whose seat she hopes to fill; and Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, the Republican Party's 2022 nominee for attorney general, who suggested local prosecutors should be allowed to cross county lines to enforce anti-abortion legislation.
The primary, which will narrow the field of candidates down to two, is on Feb. 21. The general election will be held on April 4.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.