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‘Blue Wave’ In Wisconsin’s Spring Primary Must Be Grounded In (d)emocratic Values

February 11, 2018

There is no way to cheer about the election underway this year for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  For the moment remove the argument that the process would be vastly improved with merit selection–something this blog has strongly advocated for year after year.  Instead, concentrate on what is being done to our ideals and concepts of how justice on the high court should look and work.

It appears many voters are being lulled into a highly-charged partisan state of mind over the candidacy of Tim Burns, an attorney from Dane County.  On any level playing field Burns is intelligent, determined,  and skillful.   Had he constructed a campaign on those merits I might have a far different opinion of his candidacy.  Instead, however, Burns has taken a most partisan course in the spring primary–going so far as to identify as a Democrat in a television ad.  That is most concerning.

I understand voters are facing the daily—or should I say hourly–onslaught of bombastic, chaotic, and highly-charged partisan news.  We are living in a most troubling time.  It is for that very reason when our democratic ideals and foundations seem most tenuous that we need to step back and consider our actions.   ‘Blue-wave’ voters in Wisconsin’s spring primary need to heed a more important message than the partisan one coming from the Burns’ campaign.

One of the great lines in our nation’s history took place at another time when partisanship was running wild and the judiciary was in the bulls eye.   President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to enlarge the Supreme Court with additional members of his choosing to slow down the reversals his New Deal programs were suffering.  While the funeral train was returning to Washington following the burial of Majority Leader Robinson, a number of senators, along with Vice-President Garner, debated the court-packing plan.  Once back in D.C. they all went directly to the White House where Garner asked FDR the question that history has recorded.

“Do you want it with the bark on or the bark off?”

I submit the same question needs to be placed before the voters of Wisconsin.

In other words lets be bluntly honest about what is happening in this primary regarding the high court.  There is no doubt the spring election process for the open seat is not about the scales of justice but instead has far more to do with a partisan slug-fest.  While we have had past races where partisan sides were placed before the electorate none have been so blatantly constructed.  And as a result the rancor will only further stain and tarnished the whole court.   That must not be allowed to happen.

I fully recognize the anger and frustration from a large segment of the electorate and know many feel that this race is a way to respond.  But to use tactics for electing a Democrat to the court when in the past we would rightly condemn such behavior from conservatives is not what we should be doing.  This is not how liberals should act.  If we allow ourselves to have no principal which we will not undermine than we have achieved nothing in this race expect the further decline in the credibility of the court.

The independence of the judiciary must be something we ardently defend.  Others may work to erode confidence in the court with their political shenanigans but we must never agree to lend a hand in that effort even when the partisan winds blow in our favor.  To even have to say those words in an attempt to make a point is painful to me as it should just be so obvious to all.

Citizens deserve a Supreme Court that can be viewed as a fair arbiter on the big judicial questions that face the state.  We need to work to further that ideal.  Voting for Burns would be a move in the exact opposite direction of what so many liberals claim to wish for the court.

At a time when public approval of our government and public institutions are shrinking we need to find ways to lift up and advance ideas to make democracy stronger.  Slipping into the hole other partisans have created is not the way to proceed.

If liberals wish to work for a better outcome then they should link arms and press for merit selection.  It is an idea that should be considered so to make our State Supreme Court better and no longer beholden to the partisanship which is only increasing in volume and deed.

  1. Ken permalink
    February 23, 2018 10:10 AM

    Thanks for a thoughtful posting in an overly partisan time.

  2. February 12, 2018 10:54 AM

    I have continually hammered the partisanship of court races, and the large cash amounts that fund those efforts, That is why I favor merit selection.

  3. February 12, 2018 8:13 AM

    I wonder how closely you have followed SC races to express alarm at the prospect that being a Democrat is alarming.

    I fully support Tim Burns.

    There is no pretension from Tim Burns that he is living in a cocoon. For instance, Burns does understand the powerful, affirmative right to vote in Wisconsin.

    Burns does believe these rights and liberties are protected by the Wisconsin Constitution and statutes.

    This commitment and honesty make Tim Burns the clear choice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, not to serve special interests, not to work as a trial jurist, but to serve Wisconsin citizens by impartially researching and applying the law.

    As long as a candidate does not indicate how she would rule on a case, there is no question of ethics.

    As for Dallet, she is pretending the Supreme Court is a trial court. That’s called lying, not an appealing tactic.

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