Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock meet April 3 in an election to determine who will receive a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Residence: Whitefish Bay
Family: Husband Brad, three children
Current position: Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge
Education: B.A., economics, Ohio State University; J.D., Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Family: Wife Karen, three children
Current position: Sauk County Circuit Court judge
Education: B.S., mathematics, UW-Madison; M.B.A., Eastern College; J.D., UW-Madison Law School
What is one decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court got right in the last five years? And what is one decision the court got wrong in the last five years? And why?
Dallet: A few months ago, I had a case that went to the Supreme Court which I think they got right. A mother was convicted of disorderly conduct for using profanity against her son, and she went to the high court to argue that her lawyer was ineffective for not challenging the charge as a violation of her free speech. The court upheld her appeal.
The John Doe II investigation is one that the court got wrong. This case is one of the reasons that I decided to run for this seat. Justice Gableman decided he didn’t have to recuse himself from a case where the party before the court spent $2.25 million to help him win his seat on the court. Special interests should not be able to pour millions into judicial elections to ensure they have undue influence over Wisconsin’s highest court.
Screnock: I believe our Supreme Court got the original Act 10 challenge, Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, right. The circuit court acted to prohibit the Secretary of State from publishing Act 10 and declared that a legislative committee violated the open meetings law. Both of these rulings had significant separation-of-powers implications. By voiding the circuit court’s decision, the Supreme Court emphatically reaffirmed core Constitutional principles that the judicial branch does not have any role to play in reviewing laws until the lawmaking process is complete or in supervising the Legislature’s procedures.
Why should voters care who is on the state Supreme Court?
Dallet: We should all care about our Supreme Court because right now, our Supreme Court is broken and dysfunctional. For the past decade, millions of special-interest dollars have flooded into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court elections to buy influence on the court, and it worked. When our courts are bought and paid for by special interests, the people of Wisconsin don’t have a chance at a fair shake when they enter the courtroom. Special-interest dollars have soiled our courts and it’s time we do something about it. Since day one of my campaign, I have said that I will work to establish a stronger, clear recusal rule so this undue influence stops once and for all.
Screnock: Having an independent judiciary comprised of justices with an unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law, to recognizing and respecting the separation of powers, and to interpreting the Constitution as it was intended is critical to preserving and maintaining our democracy and our republic. Far too often, we see a tendency from judges at all levels to rule with an activist bent, ultimately legislating from the bench by allowing their own personal biases to determine what is and isn’t good public policy. Our job as judges is to interpret and apply the law, based not on our personal or political beliefs, but by relying on statutes and the Constitution. Our job is to be arbiters of the law; not policy analysts or political activists. Citizens across the Badger State deserve the security and predictability of an independent judicial branch, and by electing me that’s exactly what they will get.
If you were party to a case that came before the Supreme Court, would you trust that the case would be decided fairly? Why or why not?
Dallet: I struggle to imagine I would get a fair shake in front of Wisconsin’s current Supreme Court. The people of Wisconsin, including me, have lost confidence in the independence and fairness of our highest court. A prime example is Justice Gableman’s refusal to recuse himself in front of a party that spent over $2 million to get him elected. And I believe the court declining to even hold a hearing about a stronger recusal rule is deeply concerning. The people of Wisconsin deserve a fair and impartial court, not one that caters to the special-interest groups that help them get elected.
Screnock: Citizens across Wisconsin should have confidence that our Supreme Court treats every party fairly, and I think it is unfortunate that my opponent is urging voters to disrespect our current court. I believe the current Supreme Court is comprised of a majority of justices who, like me, believe firmly in the rule of law, the Constitution, and the separation of powers. A majority of justices on the court do not believe in legislating from the bench, and they understand that impartiality is the touchstone of our judicial system. Unlike my opponent, I have recently represented parties before our Supreme Court and we always trusted that each case would be decided fairly.
Editor's note: This report has been updated to accurately reflect the outcome of a case involving a mother who used profanity with her son.