UPDATED - The LGBT civil rights groups Fair Wisconsin and Equality Wisconsin have both endorsed Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone in his campaign for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Fallone faces lemon law attorney Vince Megna and incumbent right-wing Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack on the ballot in a Feb. 19 primary. The two highest vote-getters will advance to the April 2 general election.
Roggensack positioned herself as a moderate during her successful 2003 race for the state’s highest court, which she won by a 51-49 margin. In this year’s retention race, however, her record includes a decade of decisions that overwhelmingly align her with the court’s 4-3 conservative majority.
In fact, Roggensack has been endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life, which opposes women’s reproductive choice. The virulently anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Action, which wants to eliminate civil rights protections for LGBT people, posted a flattering video interview with Roggensack on its website.
"Mr. Fallone has history of standing up for what he believes to be right," said Jason Burns, executive director of Equality Wisconsin. "While chairing Marquette's Academic Senate, he led them in passing a resolution condemning the university president for withdrawing a job offer to an openly lesbian who'd been selected as a dean. Mr. Fallone didn't do this because he is a supporter of the LGBT community, which I personally believe he is. He did it because he rejected the notion that an openly LGBT person could not represent Jesuit morals and values. This is the type of thinking that is needed on the bench, and the type that is not often displayed by Roggensack."
Recent races for the state’s highest court have been expensive, ugly affairs with outside money dominating the airwaves. Spending in the past four Supreme Court races have averaged about $5 million each, with an average of about $3 million in each coming from outside groups.
In last year’s bitter fight between incumbent far-right Justice David Prosser and progressive challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, four outside conservative groups spent $2.2 million on advertising that supported Prosser. The progressive Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $1.36 million in support of Kloppenburg.
Wisconsin Club for Growth, which backs tea party candidates, has already spent at least $111,000 on pro-Roggensack advertising.
Roggensack has come under fire for joining the Supreme Court’s 4-3 right-wing majority in ruling that justices should not recuse themselves from cases involving contributors to their campaigns. Roggensack said that disqualifying herself from hearing cases involving her big-money backers would be unfair to the thousands of other citizens who voted for her.
In what many call a hypocritical contradiction, however, Roggensack joined the court’s other right-wing justices in recusing herself from a case concerning her conservative colleague Justice David Prosser. A man of notoriously flaming temperament, Prosser’s been accused of choking Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson during an argument over a decision.
In recusing herself, Roggensack prevented the hearing on accusations against Prosser from moving forward.
Fallone has come under criticism from the right for posting opinions on blogs concerning issues such as Gov. Scott Walker’s curtailment of union rights.
Fallone, who’s officially steering clear of politics in his judicial race, has received the endorsements of former Sen. Russ Feingold, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and former Democratic Congressman Dave Obey.
Megna has run a novel campaign, declaring himself a Democrat even though judicial races are officially nonpartisan and candidates aren’t identified on the ballot by party affiliation. Megna has also taken public stands on some issues that could come before the court, including photo ID for voters and LGBT civil rights.
But Megna insists his views wouldn’t affect his legal decisions.
“I would absolutely assess the case based on the argument,” Megna told the Associated Press. “There’s no doubt in my mind there. I don’t like guns. I wish guns were banned in the world. I wish there was no gun. But I understand if a case comes to me on guns, there’s a guaranteed right under the Second Amendment to have guns. I’m not going to change that, I don’t have the power to change it.”
Both Roggensack and Fallone have rejected Megna’s politicization of the race.
“I think that already the general public has come to view our state Supreme Court as deciding cases based on political ideology,” Fallone said. “I think that’s unfortunate. I think that diminishes faith in the judiciary.”
Roggensack said taking stands on issues that could come before the court would give the appearance that candidates are prejudging them.
Megna also has refused to back away from several satirical videos he posted online before he got in the race. The videos, which mostly make fun of Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans, include foul language and profane gestures.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.