My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:
The passage of time makes it easy to forget how activist and liberal the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a few short years ago. For many years before 2008, the liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court rendered ruling after ruling that eviscerated individual liberty, punished commerce and rewrote laws from the bench.
By 2007, Wisconsin voters had had enough. Wisconsinites elected conservative Justice Annette Ziegler to an open seat, but the liberals on the court still held a 4-3 majority. 2008 was the pivotal year. In that year, the upstart judicial conservative Michael Gableman challenged incumbent liberal Justice Louis Butler and won. This was the first time since 1967 that an incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice had lost a bid for reelection. Gableman’s victory also flipped the court to a conservative majority. Since 2008, Wisconsin voters have elected or reelected judicial conservatives every time except once. Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority on the court.
The conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been critical in Wisconsin’s conservative reformation. Liberals who failed to win elections and majorities in the legislative or executive branches have routinely run to the courts to advance their agenda. Act 10, right to work, concealed carry, school choice, regulatory reforms, tort reforms, welfare reforms, etc. would all likely have been thwarted by a liberal Supreme Court.
After serving for 10 years, Gableman has chosen to return to private life, thus inviting an open election for the seat. There are three candidates for the seat. On Feb. 20, Wisconsinites will go to the polls to narrow the field to two candidates in the spring primary election. With one judicial conservative, one judicial liberal and one activist liberal, the choice could not be clearer.
Tim Burns is a liberal Madison lawyer who has made his name suing insurance companies. Although the Supreme Court race is nonpartisan, Burns is taking the approach of running as an avowed “progressive” (the chosen moniker of modern socialists) and is unabashed about espousing his political opinions. He also believes that the court should not just interpret laws passed by the other two branches of government, but that the court should intervene to “protect the middle-class economy.” Burns also believes that the court has an “obligation to strive for more than just equality. Progressive courts can ensure equity.”
Burns does not want to just interpret and enforce the laws as written. He wants the Supreme Court to serve as a socialist super-legislature that will reshape our lives in his vision — win Tim Burns making the decisions, of course. Burns is not just the typical judicial liberal. He is a dangerous activist with little regard for representative government or judicial restraint.
Rebecca Dallet is a more traditional judicial liberal. Dallet has been a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge for 10 years after working as an assistance district attorney for Milwaukee County. She is president of the Milwaukee Trial Judges Association and secretary of the Association of Women Lawyers. While Dallet is also an avowed liberal, she advocates a more restrained approach to the bench than Burns.
Dallet’s judicial rulings reveal her liberal approach to justice. As recently uncovered by Right Wisconsin, Dallet sentenced a confessed pedophile to a mere two years in jail saying, “there wasn’t an extreme amount of harm. There wasn’t intercourse” as if a grown man repeatedly fondling the vaginal areas of two elementary school children was not serious enough to warrant a more severe penalty.
Dallet has been at the heart of the liberal criminal justice system in Milwaukee County that has enabled violence and crime to surge. If voters want the rest of Wisconsin to look more like Milwaukee County, then a vote for Dallet would be the way to go.
The third candidate is the only judicial conservative in the race. Judge Michael Screnock has served as a Sauk County Circuit Court judge since 2015, but he has a very well-rounded background with experience in education, the private sector, local government and the legal system. After earning a BS in mathematics from UW-Madison and an MBA with an emphasis in urban economic development, Screnock worked for the cities of Reedsburg, Washburn and Ashland before returning to UW-Madison to earn a law degree. Screnock then worked for Michael Best & Fredrich for nearly 10 years before Gov, Walker appointed him to the Sauk County Circuit Court.
Screnock has a traditionally conservative judicial philosophy rooted in restraint and deference to the other branches of government. Screnock believes that “the role of a judge or justice is to interpret and apply the law, not rewrite the law.” While such a statement seems like traditional common sense, it stands in stark contrast to the judicial philosophies of Burns and Dallet.
Wisconsinites have worked very hard over the last decade to build a conservative Supreme Court majority that upholds the law with humble respect for the role of the court. That work must continue by electing Judge Screnock to the court — first on Feb. 20 and again on April 3.