Wisconsin just came out of a very high-profile and contentious election cycle. The public may have some election fatigue, but we should not lose sight of the important races this spring, including the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The conservative candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court is incumbent Justice David Prosser. He is part of a slim conservative majority on the increasingly contentious high court. Some have raised serious concerns regarding what appears to be an increased level of partisanship from Prosser leading up to this election.
In an early campaign press release, Prosser announced his plan to be a “complement” to the new right-wing Republican state Legislature and governor. It is critical for a justice to make decisions based on the rule of law and the facts of each case, not on ideological loyalties and personal partisan views. Although some have suggested that the problematic press release simply was a poor choice of words, Prosser went on to immediately court support at a Republican women’s group.
Prosser has been a speaker at right-wing events, where he’s shared the spotlight with some of the most ardent foes of equality. A good example is the Defending the American Dream Summit, which was sponsored by a coalition that reads like a who’s who of right-wing Wisconsin extremist groups, including the Wisconsin Family Council.
The Tea Party group known as the “Northwoods Patriots” sent out a message to its supporters telling them to vote for Prosser because he’s sufficiently conservative for them.
It is important to note that before becoming a state Supreme Court justice, Prosser was a Republican Assembly member and speaker. He served in that capacity during a time when Wisconsin still had moderate Republicans. In fact, it was during his tenure that Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus signed into law legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation (1982), making Wisconsin the first state in the nation to pass such a law.
But Prosser was not among the GOP elected officials who supported that law. Instead, he was one of 45 Assembly members who voted against the landmark legislation, which passed on a close vote of 49-45.
The LGBT community should be concerned about Prosser’s vote against landmark anti-discrimination legislation and his obvious maneuvering toward a deeper level of right-wing partisanship. There are three other candidates in the judicial race who often are described as the progressive alternatives to Prosser: Marla Stephens, who serves as the director of the state public defender’s appellate division; JoAnne Koppenburg, an assistant attorney general; and private practice attorney Joel Winnig.
The primary for this race will take place on Feb. 15, and the top two vote getters will advance to a general election on April 5. Wisconsin Supreme Court terms are a full 10 years, so Wisconsin’s vote in this election will have a lasting impact.
Hopefully voters will favor a fair approach to the state’s highest court rather than an attempt to position the court as a complement to extreme right-wing ideology.