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Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates Focus on Differences

Madison Attorney Tim Burns, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet and Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock

Tuesday, February 20, Wisconsin voters will head to the polls to narrow the list of three candidates vying to become the next Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice down to two. 

There’s an opening on the state’s highest court created by Justice Michael Gableman, who after only one 10 year term has decided not to seek reelection.

In recent years, Wisconsin Supreme Court races have been controversial due to the amount of outside money being spent to influence voters.

LISTEN: Marquette Law Professor Says Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Differs From Those in Recent Past

WUWM spoke with the candidates about what makes them the best candidate for the job.

For Madison Attorney Tim Burns, a seat on Wisconsin’s highest court is about trying to restore fairness.

“In the span of my adulthood, equal opportunity for the children of people who struggle has disappeared in our country. And it’s been replaced by a system which great corporate concerns and the very rich get richer and while the rest of the people are left working longer and harder for less and less,” Burns says.

And Burns says courts have a lot to do with that because most of these issues play out in the court of law. In recent years, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has weighed in on Gov. Walker’s Act 10 legislation, which prohibits collective bargaining in the public sector and photo I.D. In both cases, Burns says the court got it wrong by ruling in favor of the two bills. While the position of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice is nonpartisan, Burns admits he’s a Democrat.

“We’re talking about 50 year old lawyers for the most part going on to a state Supreme Court like Wisconsin and 50 year old lawyers have been involved in politics for the most part, they’ve formed political opinions, they have political values. Folks are attacking me because I’m being candid about my political value,” Burns says. 

But not all the candidates believe that declaring a political party is the way to go.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet says what’s more important are the issues she cares about.

“Our public schools, which have been threatened in terms of monies being cut from them. We have wonderful lakes, streams and parks and now we have to worry about clean air and water. Equal protection under the law is at risk every day and these are the things that make Wisconsin great. And those are the things I want to protect. But we also need to remember that this is a nonpartisan race and that judges should not be running with political messages, taking issues on cases before those cases come before the court,” Dallet says.

Dallet says that’s what we’ve seen in the past and it doesn’t work. She says everyone should know before appearing before the Supreme Court that they’re going to get a fair shake and she says that has not been the case over the last decade or so.

“We’ve seen this special interest money pouring into our state from outside of our state. And it has been pouring in and really buying justice or a justice. That is something that we’ve seen time and time again in the last decade. And it’s really taking away the ability of Wisconsinites to have someone that they elect as opposed to special interest money. The result of that has been justices who are doing the bidding of special interests and politicians as opposed to doing the work of the court,” Dallet says.

For his part, Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock, the third candidate says the differences are clear between him and his two opponents.

Screnock says his opponents are campaigning on political issues and that’s not the role of the Supreme Court, that’s the role of government. He says justices cannot change the law and that the constitution has to be followed as written. Screnrock is perceived as the conservative candidate in the race. More about his can be found on his website and WisconsinEye. Calls and e-mails to the Screnock campaign were not returned in time for this story.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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