Keeping with an occasional tradition inspired by the former Wisconsin Public Television “WeekEnd” election hangover shows on the Friday following elections (the last being in 2000, which was after the election but not before the presidential election was decided), George Mitchell sums up Tuesday’s Supreme Court primary and the oncoming April 3 election:
For the next six weeks, Milwaukee Judge Rebecca Dallet needs to take 100 percent ownership of her gaffe about the single issue that explains Judge Michael Screnock’s victory in Tuesday’s primary.
Speaking of Screnock at a candidate forum, the supposedly moderate Dallet took the audience by surprise when she said:
He’s talking about all this rhetoric about rule of law garbage…He’s just saying the same tired old thing that doesn’t mean anything.
Oh really? Then how is it that a virtually unknown judge from a small rural county outpolled candidates from the state’s most populous regions?
Screnock relentlessly drove home what is the defining difference between him, Dallet, and the so-called progressive bloc of voters who have come up short in every recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race. His message is stark and unambiguous:
I believe strongly in the rule of law. The role of a judge or justice is to interpret and apply the law, not rewrite the law…When a court is asked to interpret a law, its role is to declare what the law is, based on what the legislative and executive branches have done, and not what the court thinks it should be. Following these principles, the judiciary should never serve as a political check on the actions of the other two branches. It is not the role of a court to veto, or rewrite, laws that it believes are unwise or imprudent.
Judge Dallet believes otherwise. Exhibit A is Act 10, which she says the court “got wrong” when it upheld that law as constitutional. Notably, the late Justice Patrick Crooks joined in the 5-2 court decision. Crooks explicitly offered his negative assessment of the bill — on policy grounds — and just as clearly said that view was irrelevant to the Court’s role.
So, the stakes are clear and high. It’s either Judge Screnock and his adherence to the rule of law or Judge Dallet and her dismissal of “rule of law garbage.”
Screnock didn’t get a majority of the votes, which caused some conservatives angst yesterday. Such angst assumes, however, that all of loser Michael Burns’ voters will vote for Dallet (why wouldn’t they have voted for Dallet instead of Burns Tuesday?), and that Screnock will gain no voters who didn’t vote Tuesday because it was a one-election primary. And, as James Wigderson points out …
Too many people are trying to be cute and add together the liberal candidates’ votes showing they received a majority. That’s true, but it was also true in 2016 when Justice Rebecca Bradley ran against Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, and then Bradley won in April. In 2011, Justice David Prosser actually got a majority of the vote and then almost lost to Kloppenburg, then an assistant attorney general, in the April election.
Regardless of who wins, the Supreme Court will remain in the hands of conservatives, either four or five depending on whether Screnock or Dallet replaces retiring Justice Mike Gableman. Two of the three oldest justices are the two liberals, Shirley Abrahamson, 84 (her term expires next year), and Ann Walsh Bradley, 67. (Chief Justice Patience Roggensack is 77.)