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Democratic U.S. Senate candidates split on expanding U.S. Supreme Court, term limits

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Democratic U.S. Senate candidates

From left: Mandela Barnes, Alex Lasry, Sarah Godlewski and Tom Nelson.

Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidates have each slammed recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but they don’t see eye-to-eye on how to resolve conservatives’ hold on the nation’s highest court.

After a leaked memo showed the federal high court’s preliminary decision to end nationwide abortion protections, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tom Nelson said he would work to “expand the Supreme Court.”

Nelson added in an interview Thursday that he would consider “anything to shake up the current court,” which has a 6-3 conservative majority, and said he favors imposing term limits.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who holds a slight edge in the Marquette Law School Poll, wouldn’t clarify whether he supported expanding the court or imposing term limits.

“Given the GOP’s attempt to pack the court with judges intent on overturning basic rights, we need to take a long hard look at reform,” he said in a statement, calling for a code of ethics for justices.

Asked again whether he was in favor of expanding the court or imposing term limits, Barnes spokesperson Lauren Chou said, “he recognizes the need for reforms in the court but is prioritizing codifying Roe v. Wade.”

Milwaukee Bucks executive-on-leave Alex Lasry, polling second in the Marquette poll, said he doesn’t support packing the court but would consider term limits for justices.

“We need to take the politics out of the Supreme Court,” Lasry said in a statement. “I don’t want to expand the court, but I do believe there needs to be Court reform. The potential of term limits should be part of that discussion.”

State Treasurer and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski isn’t in favor of expanding the court, spokesperson Sarah Abel said.

In a statement, Godlewski said, “I would be open to exploring term limits for Justices so that neither side can abuse the system by appointing inexperienced judges to lifetime positions.”

“The best way to counteract the packed conservative majority on the Supreme Court that Ron Johnson, Mitch McConnell, and the GOP created by stealing two seats, is to elect more Democrats, send extremists like Ron Johnson packing, end the filibuster, and pass laws that protect women’s health and freedom, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and so much more,” she said.

The idea of increasing the court’s size — which has been floating around Democratic camps and has led to an unsuccessful proposal in 2021 to increase the number of justices from nine to 13 — has split Democrats for years.

Some propose expansion as a way to undo the court’s conservative majority. Others consider it a careless way to politicize the court and set a precedent for Democrats and Republicans each to expand the court when they’re in power. The maximum number of justices has changed over the years but has held steady at nine since 1869, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden has said he is “not a fan” of increasing the high court’s size. He set forth a commission partially to study its viability, but the commission’s final report stated it “takes no position on the wisdom of expansion.” And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn’t hold a floor vote on the Democratic effort to expand the Supreme Court to 13 justices.

Still, the stakes have become higher for Democrats as the court appears poised to overturn abortion protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, leaving Democrats in fear of what right might be struck down next. The court dealt Wisconsin Democrats another blow when it rejected Wisconsin’s 10-year legislative maps drawn by Gov. Tony Evers, sending the matter back to the state high court, which then chose the GOP-majority Legislature’s maps.

“The real issue here is politicians like Ron Johnson who will stop at nothing short of a full abortion ban,” Barnes said. “The priority must be throwing out the filibuster and making Roe v. Wade the law of the land.”

“Tom favors expanding the court due to the Republicans stealing a few seats from us when they unjustly blocked Obama’s nominee,” Nelson spokesperson Irene Lin said, referencing Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to confirm now-Attorney General Merrick Garland after former President Barack Obama nominated him for the court in 2016.

Former President Donald Trump nominated three justices during his term, each of whom were confirmed under a Republican-majority Senate. His last nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, was appointed “in violation of (Republicans’) own ‘rules’ about no confirmations in an election year,” Lin said, referencing the logic Republicans used to block Garland.

Top 10 Wisconsin political stories of 2021 (based on what you, the readers, read)

2021 was another big year in Wisconsin politics. Sen. Ron Johnson said some things. Voters elected a new state superintendent. Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans clashed over mask mandates. Michael Gableman threatened to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay. Here are 10 political stories you, the readers, checked out in droves.

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Since the start of the outbreak, Gov. Tony Evers has issued multiple public health emergencies and a series of related orders. 

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Sen. Ron slammed the impeachment over the weekend as “vindictive and divisive,” and possibly a “diversionary operation” by Democrats to distract from security lapses at the U.S. Capitol.

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"I wouldn’t run if I don’t think I could win," said Johnson, who is undecided on a re-election bid. 

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The board had previously not required masks in schools after some in the public voiced opposition.

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With a new order announced, Republicans may be forced to start the process all over again to vote down the governor's emergency order and accompanying mask mandate, but the most likely outcome appears to be an eventual court decision.

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Fort McCoy officials acknowledge there were initial problems with food supply, but that and other issues are being addressed.

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The idea is in its infancy and all options, including declining to pursue anything, are on the table.

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Gableman has asked the court, which plans to take up the matter on Dec. 22, to compel the two mayors to meet with him.

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Deborah Kerr said she has also voted for Republicans and tells GOP audiences on the campaign trail for the officially nonpartisan race that she is a "pragmatic Democrat."

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Limbaugh died Wednesday at 70.


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