The following editorial was published April 8 in the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
Gov. Scott Walker tweeted a warning to fellow Republicans on Election Night last week:
“Tonight’s results show we are at risk of a (hashtag) #BlueWave in WI. The Far Left is driven by anger & hatred — we must counter it with optimism & organization.”
The governor needn’t worry about the far left. They lost miserably — more than six weeks ago — when overtly partisan and progressive candidate Tim Burns, a Madison attorney, got creamed in the three-way primary for Wisconsin Supreme Court on Feb. 20.
Instead, the big winner in Tuesday’s statewide election for high court was the most experienced and independent candidate for the judiciary: Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet. The former prosecutor with 10 years on the bench collected 56 percent of the vote to Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock’s 44 percent.
Screnock had only been a judge for a few years, and he showed more signs of activism, having been arrested twice for trying to block women from accessing an abortion clinic decades ago.
Yet Screnock gave every indication he was an honorable judge during his meeting with the State Journal editorial board, as did Dallet. The two professed their independence from partisan politics and swore to apply the law as written — not to dole out favors to their special interest supporters.
In sharp contrast, Burns had attempted to radically change how high-court elections are conducted. Running for what’s supposed to be a nonpartisan and neutral position on the state’s highest court, Burns had touted himself as “an unshakable champion of liberal, Democratic and progressive values.”
Voters wisely and soundly rejected his disturbing campaign, which was a direct threat to what independence is left on the high court. Judicial elections, which force candidates for the high court to raise lots of money and woo support from special interests, are undermining the court’s credibility.
Yet Dallet and Screnock tried to uphold some dignity during their races, despite Wisconsin’s badly flawed system. For that, civic-minded citizens who respect the importance of an independent judiciary should thank them.
After Burns was trounced in the primary, Dallet was viewed as the liberal candidate because of ties to Democratic interests. But Dallet had endorsed the re-election of conservative Chief Justice Pat Roggensack in the past. And unlike Burns, Dallet declined to take a position on the GOP-backed Voter ID bill. The ACLU also faulted Dallet for being rated “one of the harshest sentencers for select felony offenses.”
So while Gov. Walker, along with many conservative and liberal activists, want to scour the high court race for its partisan implications, voters should instead credit Dallet and Screnock for trying to uphold their principles as independent jurists.
The big winner in last Tuesday’s statewide election for high court was the most experienced and independent candidate for the judiciary: Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet. The former prosecutor with 10 years on the bench collected 56 percent of the vote to Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock’s 44 percent.