The primary election in Wisconsin Tuesday night pitted local candidates against each other in various municipal elections. But it was the state Supreme Court race that took center stage, for a lot of good reasons.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock will advance to the two spots on the April general election ballot, beating out Madison attorney Tim Burns. Burns and Dallet were the progressive choices for the judicial position, with Burns a bit to Dallet’s left. Screnock was the conservative choice, to put it mildly.
Screnock is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, who gave them his support just one day before a school shooting in Florida that left 17 individuals dead. He’s also a huge supporter of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, and helped to create the gerrymandered maps that currently plague our state’s electoral system. And he was arrested twice in 1989 for bullying women, interfering with their right to enter an abortion clinic.
To put it bluntly, Screnock’s views are extreme, and it’s doubtful he could rule without bias on the state’s highest court. But while he got more support than Dallet, there’s still a good reason for progressives to feel optimistic about the upcoming contest between the two.
Dallet garnered close to 36 percent of the vote, while Screnock received 46 percent. But in the general election, with only two candidates on the ballot, the winner will need to get 50 percent-plus one of the vote in order to advance.
Dallet, while not preferable to some hardline progressives, still has a judicial philosophy that should resonate with most on the left, and should also make sense to a lot of moderate Wisconsinites. That gives the advantage, at least for now, to Dallet, despite Screnock winning a plurality of votes on Tuesday. In all likelihood, the voters who preferred Burns will probably turn out to vote for Dallet a month and a half from now.
It’s not a given, of course: some of Burns’s supporters were ardently opposed to Dallet’s candidacy. But if they had qualms with Dallet, then their grievances with Screnock are tenfold.
Make no mistake: this race is going to be a close one. The turnout will be significantly higher in April than it was this past Tuesday — which means Screnock still has an opportunity to make up lost ground.
Still, Dallet’s good showing, along with her other opponent’s totals from Tuesday, combine to demonstrate this is her race to lose. With a good mobilization effort and enough Burns supporters choosing to vote for her, Dallet could win a much-needed seat on the state’s Supreme Court for liberals — and keep another rubber-stamp choice of Gov. Scott Walker from winning.