Race to the Left in WI High Court Contest

By James Wigderson, special to Media Trackers

The race to be the remaining liberal challenger to Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman in 2018 is on. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet jumped into the contest on Thursday joining fellow Democrat Madison attorney Tim Burns.

Provided Gableman, Dallet and Burns all make the ballot, the primary election will be February 20 and the Spring Election date is set for next April 3rd. The election for state Supreme Court Justice is supposed to be non-partisan but has been a contest between liberals and conservatives in recent elections.

Burns and Dallet are already exchanging barbs in the effort to be the liberal alternative to the conservative Gableman.

Upon Dallet’s entry into the race, Burns’s campaign manager Amanda Brink called Dallet a conservative, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, because she was a prosecutor before she was a judge.

Dallet, who once made a contribution to Governor Jim Doyle, responded by saying Burns should not have promoted his opposition to Wisconsin’s voter ID laws because the issue may come before the Supreme Court again.

Dallet’s entry into the “who is more liberal” contest was a statement to the Journal Sentinel that the best day as a judge for her was the first day she could perform same-sex marriages.

But Burns may have the early lead in the liberal bona fides dispute.

Burns signed the petition to recall Governor Scott Walker. Burns also made it clear he opposes Act 10, the law passed in 2011 that has saved Wisconsin taxpayers $5 billion and counting by eliminating collective bargaining over benefits for most public employees.

Burns criticized Gableman for writing the decision that upheld the law. “There’s a real lack of concern for working people,” Burns told Wisconsin Public Radio. “And that’s certainly reflected in his decision in the Act 10 case.”

In 2015, Burns was one of eight candidates forwarded to President Barack Obama by Senator Tammy Baldwin to fill a vacancy on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, but he was not chosen.

However, as a board member of the liberal American Constitution Society (ACS), Burns had the honor of introducing Baldwin, “one of the great public servants of Wisconsin,” at the Madison chapter’s inaugural meeting in October.

In describing the origins of the ACS, Burns said it was born in the aftermath of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision by the Supreme Court.

“Within a few weeks, we would see an election too close to call, and we would see five conservative justices of the Supreme Court snatch the presidential decision from the voters and from the state of Florida,” Burns said. “Al Gore lost the election as a result. More importantly, the American people lost.”

Burns reminded the audience Bush was able to appoint two Supreme Court Justices, “guaranteeing another decade of an outmoded and corrupt vision of the Constitution.”

“The ACS was founded to organize, motivate, and mobilize lawyers like you who have a far different vision of the Constitution from the five conservative justices who gave George Bush the election,” Burns said. “A far different vision of the constitution from the Federalist Society that taught Republicans that courts matter.”

Burns attempted to further burnish his liberal credentials in a fundraising email sent out during the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s convention over the weekend:


For the past forty years, however, conservative judges have been chipping away at the laws that protected our democracy and our middle-class economy. A thriving society with opportunity for all does not elect a demagogue like Donald Trump. When courts are fair and impartial, more than the wealthy get ahead and more than massive corporations flourish. When courts are fair and impartial, our laws allow small farms, small business and workers to have a fair shot.


But in an age of Citizens United with special interest money flooding our elections, we cannot get back to fair and impartial courts without recognizing a brutal truth. The political values of judges matter. Republicans know that. Why else would they have prevented President Obama from filling the Supreme Court vacancy for over a year?


In the past century, it was only when this party and other progressive organizations united that we were able to beat back the power of concentrated wealth and the forces of hatred. Together, we tamed Wall Street and big business. Together, we reduced racial inequality by passing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Together, we shattered glass ceilings. Together, we recognized the dignity of all people by making marriage equality the law of the land.

In the game of who can appeal to a Democratic base that voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in the last presidential primary, Dallet has some catching up to do.