Expensive, partisan Wisconsin high court race nears end

Rebecca Dallet
The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An expensive and openly partisan race for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court neared an end Tuesday, with voters choosing between a conservative appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a liberal who drew support from former Obama administration officials.

The race between Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet was nonpartisan in name only, with both sides eager to win the 10-year seat on a high court whose ideological split has been on public display in recent years.

Conservatives held a 5-2 majority going into the election, so control wasn’t at stake. But Democrats hoped to build on a surprising victory in January in a special state Senate election, especially with two more special legislative elections coming this summer.

The race was closely watched as a potential bellwether of voter attitudes in Wisconsin ahead of the fall midterms, although results of past Supreme Court elections have not consistently proven to be predictive of what will happen in November. President Donald Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016.

Screnock, 48, was appointed circuit judge by Walker in 2015 and counted the conservative state chamber of commerce, a variety of anti-abortion groups and the National Rifle Association among his supporters.

Dallet, 48, was elected judge in 2008 after working 11 years as a prosecutor. She benefited from spending by a group started by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and was endorsed by trade and teacher unions, Planned Parenthood and more than 200 Wisconsin judges.

Both candidates argued the other couldn’t be trusted to serve as an independent voice on the state’s highest court because of partisan campaign support.

Spending on TV ads in the race was expected to approach $4.5 million, about what was spent on the 2016 race, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending on court races nationwide.

Dallet ran with a tough-on-crime message, focusing on her prosecutorial experience followed by 10 years working as a judge in Milwaukee. She argued that the conservative-controlled Supreme Court is “broken,” and criticized the justices for not adopting a recusal rule forcing them to step down from cases involving large campaign donors.

Screnock said he was devoted to the rule of law and a strict interpretation of the Constitution, arguments that winning conservative candidates have used in recent state Supreme Court elections.

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