Supreme Court Race Taking Shape

Conservatives will have a new candidate for Supreme Court on the ballot next spring, while two liberals are contending for what will now be an open seat.

Yesterday, conservative Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman announced he would not seek re-election, taking many by surprise. Gableman is currently serving his first 10-year term on the court after defeating incumbent Louis Butler in 2008, the first time an incumbent justice was unseated in more than 40 years.

Indications are that Gableman won’t step down early, which would allow Gov. Walker to appoint a replacement, which would potentially give a replacement an advantage in next spring’s election.

In what was clearly a joke, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning greeted Gableman’s announcement by stating, “conservative candidates are clearly becoming intimidated by the strength of our operation.”

Two liberals are already running for Gableman’s seat – Madison lawyer Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet. Both spoke at the DPW state convention, contrasting themselves with Gableman.

Conservatives, then, were seemingly without a candidate for all of one day. But today, Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock announced his candidacy. In a statement announcing his candidacy, Screnock said:

“I want to thank Justice Gableman for his service to the Wisconsin judiciary and his commitment to the rule of law. I share that commitment along with the belief that it is the role of a judge to say what the law is and not what it should be,” said Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock. “Judges must respect the different roles of the court and legislature and should not legislate from the bench.”

While Screnock will run as an impartial jurist who will “say what the law is and not what it should be,” the liberals in the race are unabashed in advertising that they will be overtly political on the bench. “The political values of judges matter, and I’m the candidate in this race who values workers and rebuilding the middle class,” Madison lawyer Tim Burns said.

If Burns wants to “value workers” and “rebuild the middle class” regardless of the facts of individual cases in front of him, he should run for a legislative seat instead of Supreme Court. His statement is clearly a broadside against historic reforms like Gov. Walker’s Act 10 and right to work.

Screnock, meanwhile, has been a steadfast defender of conservative reforms and causes, not just with words but with action. Take it from the AP’s Scott Bauer:

Judges can have a political ideology, but advertising that their political ideology will guide their decisions is a play to the liberal base, which prefers to have their justice served with a heavy seasoning of left-wing ideology.

The election for Supreme Court is next April.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.