The first statewide test of the 2018 election season is April 3, when Wisconsinites will choose a Supreme Court Justice to fill an upcoming vacancy for a 10-year term.
Officially, positions on the Supreme Court are non-partisan. However, parties and political leanings typically align themselves with particular candidates who best fit their judicial philosophy, and this year’s race is no different. This year’s candidates are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet, who is basically supported by Democrats and liberal leaners, and Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, who has gained favor with conservatives.
Ideally, a judge should aspire to hold up the scales of justice as intended, with a blindfold, carefully weighing the evidence. They assess whether proper legal procedures have been followed. They assess whether a new statute is within or exceeds the limits of the state Constitution. It is not the role of the court, or a particular justice, to advance a particular cause. Their role is to interpret the law. Period.
Much of their first debate from March 2 focused on outside influences. Dallet challenged Screnock regarding an endorsement from the National Rifle Association. According to campaign finance records at ethics.wi.gov, the NRA has not contributed to Judge Screnock’s campaign. Screnock’s response was, “They want justices on the Supreme Court who will follow the rule of law, and interpret the Constitution as originally written.” According to a March 2 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Screnock and Republicans have been critical of Dallet’s presiding over 102 cases, involving 39 attorneys, who have contributed more than $21,000 to Dallet’s campaign.
Dallet’s response was that candidates are allowed to get contributions from attorneys.
Dallet stated Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has spent more than $600,000 supporting Screnock’s candidacy. The lobbying group has not contributed to Screnock’s campaign. According to ethics.wi.gov Dallet’s biggest contributor is Rebecca Dallet, who loaned her campaign $200,000 in June. Supreme Court justices earn far less on an annual basis. How much is that seat worth?
Judge Dallet has been a judge since 2008, and in prior experience, a prosecutor for Milwaukee County. She has professional credentials, though her experience is limited to Milwaukee County. Her candidacy is much preferable to the ousted candidate, Tim Burns. Her recent TV ad first features Donald Trump, saying he’s “attacked our civil rights, and our values.” My question to Judge Dallet is the relevance of Trump in this race. She’s said she’s ready to “fight and represent our values on day one.” A judge should weigh evidence. She says that she has been “working to empower women.” Don’t the scales of justice wear a blindfold? I have not seen or heard her mention the rule of law. She has the endorsement of a number of judges from primarily liberal areas of the state. She’s stated the need for more female judges. There currently are five women on the seven-member state Supreme Court.
Judge Screnock serves Sauk County as a circuit judge. He took on that role out of private practice in 2015, and was elected in 2016 without opposition. It’s interesting in profiles or forums the candidates have presented, Judge Screnock is the only candidate who actually mentions the rule of law, the Constitution and separation of powers. Much of his support is from the law enforcement community. He clearly states his judicial philosophy, and has said a court’s role is to declare what the law is — not what the court thinks it should be. He has a clear understanding of the role of the judiciary. The court determines whether a law is constitutional. Critics say the judge, while in private practice, defended Act 10. Judge Screnock was hired out of the field of attorneys at his firm for his ability, not for his potential partisan bend. I like his experience working with municipal governments across the state, with his experience not limited to the courts.
It shouldn’t surprise any readers to see my support for Judge Screnock in this race. Above all else, we need judges who will set aside their personal preferences at the door, and seek to rule on the evidence presented.
The first big statewide race and only is the beginning as this 2018 election cycle heats up. I invite you to join me for the ride. Research the candidates. Learn the issues. Be informed. And vote.