The scales of justice weigh heavily in favor of Judge Rebecca Dallet as a contender for the open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will be filled by voters on April 3.
One of Wisconsin’s most well-regarded circuit judges, she is, at 47, strikingly well prepared to serve on the state’s highest court.
Dallet studied economics before earning her law degree — an ideal educational background for a justice on a court that deals, increasingly, with cases involving economic issues. She worked for 11 years as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County, and for several years as a special assistant U.S. attorney. She also served as the chief court commissioner for Milwaukee County, and has taught as an adjunct professor at the Marquette University Law School.
Elected as a Milwaukee County circuit judge in 2008, she was re-elected in 2014 and has served with distinction on one of the busiest benches in Wisconsin. As a judge presiding over more than 10,000 cases and more than 230 jury trials in areas ranging from domestic violence and misdemeanors, to homicide and drug cases, to civil cases and small claims court. Dallet understands the whole of the law — as a Supreme Court justice must.
Her fellow judges recognize this. More than 200 Wisconsin jurists have endorsed her candidacy — including the longest-serving member on the Supreme Court: Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who served for many years as the most distinguished chief justice in the court’s history.
“Judge Dallet has shown over her 23 years in Wisconsin courtrooms that she understands the proper role of the courts and how the application of Wisconsin law impacts our communities," said Abrahamson. "Her perspective and experience will serve the court and our state well.”
Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a champion of judicial ethics on a high court where too many justices have lost sight of basic premises of the law, has also endorsed Dallet. “I am confident that Judge Rebecca Dallet has the legal experience and temperament to be an excellent Supreme Court justice,” said Bradley. “Judge Dallet’s two decades in Wisconsin courtrooms, first as a prosecutor and then as a judge, means she understands the real-life impact that our decisions have on regular people. I am proud to support a tremendously qualified woman who shares our Wisconsin values.”
The fact that Dallet is a woman seems to trouble some of the supporters of her underqualified and ethically compromised challenger, Judge Michael Screnock. A right-wing website that has been cheerleading for Screnock’s candidacy recently complained: “Dallet wants to be on the Supreme Court because she’s a woman.”
We certainly hope that is one of the reasons why Dallet wants to serve on the high court. It’s the 21st century, yet women remain woefully underrepresented in the state’s judiciary, and there is every reason to want more women in the state’s courtrooms.
But Dallet has been clear about the primary reason she wants to serve on the Supreme Court. It is to renew and advance the Wisconsin ideal of equal justice under law — and to make it relevant to the issues of the 21st century.
“In our courts, I see the challenges our neighbors face every day: I see moms like me working two jobs, but still not able to make ends meet. I see families losing their homes when a family member gets sick and the medical bills stack up. I see victims of violent crime, especially in our poorest neighborhoods, struggling to find a way as guns, drugs, and gangs devastate their community. And I see neighbors trying to get their lives back on track, but stuck in a criminal justice system that needs reform,” said Judge Dallet. “Judges are challenged every single day: to weigh the facts, examine the evidence and deliver a decision. And while there is so much at stake here in Wisconsin, inexperience is not an option if we want to protect our values at the highest level. I am prepared to fight and represent our values on day one.”
That statement reveals what is most vital about Dallet’s candidacy. She is steeped in the grass-roots values and legal traditions of the state she seeks to serve, while at the same time she is fully aware of the challenges that have arisen and that will continue to arise in a more diverse and rapidly evolving Wisconsin.
The same cannot be said of Screnock, who finished law school in 2006 and quickly aligned himself with the corporate interests and right-wing political operatives allied with Gov. Scott Walker. Screnock has defended anti-democratic gerrymandering schemes and assaults on the rights of working people. In this campaign, he has embraced the agenda of the National Rifle Association and the out-of-state corporate interests that have warped Wisconsin politics for the past decade — in large part via their influencing of court contests.
Like the most disreputable of the current justices, Screnock has disregarded and disrespected the historic Wisconsin commitment to judicial ethics — especially on the issue of judicial recusal. Every signal that Screnock has sent, every single signal from his brief legal career and from his even more brief tenure as a Walker appointee to a county court bench, is that he would sit on the Supreme Court as a political partisan and a judicial errand boy for the governor.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has gone through rough times in recent years; the current majority has failed Wisconsin legally, ethically and morally. The court needs a new justice who will serve ethically, and with an eye toward serving Wisconsinites rather than out-of-state corporate and political interests. Dallet matches the job description. She has the experience and the vision to join Justices Abrahamson and Bradley in turning the court back toward the high standards that once defined it, and that can define it once more.
Judge Rebecca Dallet has earned our highest and most enthusiastic endorsement.
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