The three candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court discussed their views and values on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.
Madison-area attorney Tim Burns, who has embraced the mantle of a progressive in the officially non-partisan race, said his campaign has been “very appropriate.”
“This isn’t a campaign gimmick. It is a moral statement about our democracy,” Burns said.
“Judges in our country have a lot of power. Our Supreme Court takes 50 or 60 cases a year and it uses them to shape our economy and our political system. In a democracy, when people have that kind of power, they need to be candid about who they are and what they believe,” Burns said.
Burns said he is being candid with people about what he believes. But he insisted that he could be impartial, should he be elected to the state Supreme Court.
“Our values inform our view of the law. And anybody that says differently is just not being square with people. … I refuse to go down that road,” he said.
“Our court is controlled by right-wing conservatives who were stealth candidates, who told us that they would be umpires, that they would be neutral,” Burns said.
“And then when they got on to the court they became rubber stamps for Scott Walker’s right-wing agenda. And this idea of non-partisanship is what allowed it to happen,” he said.
In another segment, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet defended talking about her values in her campaign for state Supreme Court.
“I’m sharing my values. People need to know those, but they also need to have confidence in a fair and impartial court,” she said.
She said values are different than taking positions on issues.
“I believe that judges should absolutely be able to share our values. I’ve done this since day one of this campaign,” she said. “I have not taken any positions on issues, and that’s the difference between me and my opponents, especially Mr. Burns.”
Dallet said Burns is running “an openly partisan race” in violation of judicial ethical code.
Gousha asked her about her campaign’s television ad featuring a picture of President Trump. She said people are “upset by government by tweet, upset by the tenor.”
“The message right now, what we feel in our country, is this attack on our values. It is not a partisan issue,” she said.
Dallet also explained her past statements that the current Wisconsin Supreme Court is broken. She said millions of dollars of special interest money has poured into past court races, and that has helped elect justices who do “the bidding of political allies of those on the court.”
She said court decisions “appear to be driven by partisan politics, protecting political allies, as opposed to applying the law, which is what all of us in Wisconsin should want it to do.”
In the final segment, Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock said he wouldn’t let his personal feelings play into decisions he would make as a justice.
“I am committed to the rule of law. I’m committed to setting aside whatever personal feelings I have on an issue or a party in deciding the case, purely based on the facts and the law,” he said.
Gousha asked Screnock, who is perceived as the conservative in the race, about criticism from his opponents that that he would be a “rubber stamp” for Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed him to the Sauk County bench.
Prior to becoming a judge, Screnock worked for the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm, which has defended Republicans in several controversial cases, including Act 10.
“Now that I’m a judge, my fidelity is to the law, and the law alone,” he said.
Gousha also asked Screnock if he could be impartial on cases involving abortion. In 1989, Screnock was arrested twice in large anti-abortion protests outside of a Madison clinic.
Screnock said he would recuse himself if he could not set aside his feelings.
“If I believed I could not be impartial, absolutely I would recuse myself. I have to. It’s part of our judicial code of conduct,” he said.
“If you want to sign up to be a Supreme Court justice and ask the people to trust you with that awesome responsibility, you have to be able to set those things aside. I am willing and I know that I can do it,” Screnock said.
See more from the program: