Candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court navigate partisan trend

Campaigns for the state's high court, while officially nonpartisan, have been tinged with partisan elements for decades. For years, candidates quietly received support along largely party lines while stressing their independent nature. 

That changed with Madison attorney Tim Burns, who has made his Democratic politics a key element of his pitch to voters. Burns faces liberal-leaning Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet and conservative-leaning Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock in the Feb. 20 primary election. The two top vote-getters will face off in the April 3 general election. The winner will replace Justice Michael Gableman, who is not seeking another 10-year term.

The Cap Times spoke with all three candidates about the race, their experience and their philosophies.

Burns said he has seen equal opportunity for all disappear over the course of his adult life.

"I'm the grandchild of Mississippi sharecroppers. My father got a fifth grade education, my mom a 10th grade education. I know I wouldn’t be one of the top lawyers in the country but for the broad middle class of my childhood that included folks like us and provided us with good public libraries and public schools," Burns said, adding that courts shape the country's economy and political system.

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Supreme Court race showing its political stripes

Two years ago, Milwaukee County Judge Joe Donald was struggling to stand out in a three-way primary in the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Running against a conservative and a liberal, Donald crafted a campaign as the race’s independent candidate. But he only ended up with 12 percent of the vote.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, said the tone of this year’s race is different than those in the past but a shift in the making.

“Tim Burns has been very up front about talking about issues that matter in language of politics rather than avoiding any discussion of issues and cases which has been the sort of norm for judicial elections,” he said. 

Madison attorney Burns jumped in the race last spring and is campaigning on his liberal political views. Fellow liberal-leaning candidate Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet began the race objecting to Burns’ political speech but has since shared some of her own views on policies and Supreme Court decisions.

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Our Revolution endorses Tim Burns for Wisconsin Supreme Court

“Tim’s working-class background makes him a champion for all of Wisconsin’s working families,” Our Revolution president Nina Turner stated in a news release.

Turner added, “On the Supreme Court, he’ll fight for everyone no matter what their race, religion, education, or creed. He will protect voting rights, workers’ rights, the environment, and level the playing field for small businesses.  Right now there are people who are fighting to take away our most valued right–the right to vote. The greatest equalizer we have in this country is the right to vote. If we want better policies, we need better elected officials and that starts at the ballot box–and for Wisconsin voters that starts with electing Tim Burns to the Supreme Court.”


wort 89.9FM: Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates

On April 3rd, Wisconsin voters will determine who will fill Justice Michael Gableman’s State Supreme Court seat. Host Carousel Bayrd speaks with two candidates running for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.