Two state Supreme Court candidates were introduced to local Democratic voters Monday night — one as a progressive judicial candidate to combat a conservative court, another who says she seeks voters of all political affiliations who want to return independence on the court.
Tim Burns, a Madison attorney, and Rebecca Dallet, a Milwaukee County judge, visited the Outagamie County Democrats’ annual corn roast at Sunset Park in Kimberly.
Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman announced earlier this summer that he would not seek re-election, creating a wide open race. Burns, Dallet and Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock have entered the race so far.
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A Feb. 20 primary will narrow the field to two for the general election on April 3. The race is officially nonpartisan, but Burns said that the notion that judges are apolitical is a “fairy tale.”
“We might engage in the fairy tale and call them nonpartisan, but they’re not,” Burns told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “Judges have strong political views, and I have strong political views, that doesn’t mean that (judges) can’t be impartial but those views come into play on cases.”
In contrast, Dallet said her message of independence is being well-received by voters she’s met.
“People are sick of partisan politics, and even if you understand that partisan politics have a place in our society, people genuinely understand that it does not hold a place in our courts and should not hold a place in our courts,” she said.
Both Burns and Dallet said they take the most umbrage with the lack of recusal rules for justices when justices’ campaign donors are involved in cases being heard by the court. Gableman was one of five justices who opposed the recusal rules when they were addressed last spring.
Burns is currently a partner at Perkins Coie law firm in Madison. He also is a board member for the progressive American Constitution Society.
Dallet has been a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge since 2008. Prior to that, she was a prosecutor in Milwaukee County for 12 years and worked as a federal prosecutor in the late 1990s.
Burns has already received two notable endorsements from previous state Supreme Court candidates late last week: Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Marquette University professor Ed Fallone. Dallet also has the endorsements of more than 80 Wisconsin judges, both current and retired, according to her website.
While Dallet is campaigning as an independent judge, Burns is more openly courting liberal voters, saying the election of President Donald Trump is part of what spurred him to run for office. He said a progressive judge should value reproductive rights, voting rights and be sensitive to immigration issues.
“I am who I am,” Burns told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin of his past campaign donations to Democrats. “I donated to Democrats and I didn’t donate to Republicans so folks can draw what conclusions they want from that. I’m not going to hide that I was a Democrat, that my values led me to a place where I wanted to support Democratic candidates.”
Dallet said she won’t share political views on a particular issue in the event that it later comes before the court. She also doesn’t believe in using labels to describe her judicial philosophy while campaigning.
“I don’t think our founders envisioned all this stuff that is happening,” Dallet said, citing the use of drones by law enforcement as an example of where to ensure 4th amendment privacy protections. “You have to be able to take the facts in front of you and look at the Constitution and figure out what to do in that situation … There’s nothing in the Constitution about drones.”