Liberals who want to legislate from the Wisconsin Supreme Court hope to advance that agenda at the April 4 general election.
They’ll get their wish even sooner if conservatives don’t get off their butts on February 20. Several veteran political observers suggest that the only candidate with clear respect for judicial independence could be out of the running after Tuesday.
Nothing less than the rule of law — or, as Judge Rebecca Dallet dismissively says, “the rule of law garbage” — is at stake.
Only one of the three candidates has affirmed a clear vision of the Court’s role and the limits and that role. Says Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock:
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. Our system of government has at its foundation three co-equal branches – legislative, executive, and judicial. When the constitutionality of a law is questioned, the judiciary serves an important role as a legal check on the actions of the other two branches, and appropriately declares when they have overstepped their lawful authority. 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.
For a stark contrast, there’s Milwaukee Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet. Mocking Judge Screnock’s views at a recent forum, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted her as follows: ”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.” Judge Dallet proceeded to misrepresent Judge Screnock by erecting and knocking down a straw man: “I am not a rubber stamp of whatever the Legislature does or whatever the governor does.”
And there is Madison lawyer Tim Burns. Rather than run from the charge of judicial activism, he embraces it. He openly broadcasts the partisan Democratic approach he would bring to the bench. From opposing the Voter ID law to attacking the policy merits of the lawful Foxconn deal, Burns stakes out positions in a way that would disqualify a truly independent judge from sitting on many cases.
If conservative and independent voters fail to rally to Screnock’s cause next week, the blame will be clearly seen by looking in the mirror.