Janesville48.4°

Court vote will gauge state's political mood

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Ted Sullivan
March 28, 2011
— In what is normally a sleepy race, the Wisconsin Supreme Court election has taken center stage in the debate over collective bargaining, public employees and the state budget.

Incumbent Justice David Prosser, 68, a former Republican lawmaker, is seen as part of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, although he told the Gazette his record shows he is in the center.


Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, 57, is viewed as someone aligned with the left, but she told the Gazette she would be nonpartisan, independent and impartial.


Republicans in November gained control of the governor's office, Assembly and Senate, but many believe the Supreme Court race will be the first gauge of Wisconsin's political leanings after the collective bargaining bill sparked protests nationwide.


The race is widely perceived as Democrats versus Republicans, the middle class against corporations and liberal labor unions versus fiscal conservatives.


Residents will have the chance Tuesday, April 5, to change the Supreme Court's perceived majority. The election could alter the fate of the collective bargaining bill and impact rulings on recall elections.


The District 4 Court of Appeals decided Thursday it would send to the Supreme Court a lawsuit filed over the collective bargaining law, which would strip most collective bargaining rights from some public employees.


The Supreme Court has not decided whether to take the case. The lawsuit states Republicans violated the open meetings law when passing the bill.


In interviews with the Gazette, both Supreme Court candidates said they would be fair if asked to rule on the lawsuit. They said they have no opinion on collective bargaining because no case is before them.


Exchanging accusations

The Supreme Court race has become hotly contested in recent weeks, with both candidates challenging each other's records and campaign tactics.


Kloppenburg said Prosser's record shows he is biased. She said Prosser's partisanship and politics have no place in courts.


"He does not see his role as independent and impartial. He sees his role as being partisan," Kloppenburg said. "The court should be deciding cases free of the partisan politics."


Prosser said his experience and record on the bench show that he is in the center. He said he has voted with justices perceived to be liberal and has endorsed them.


"The idea that Dave Prosser is just some kind of robotic partisan just cannot be substantiated," he said. "I would ask people to look at my record, not only as a justice, but over all those years, and say, 'Is this guy really doing a remarkably good job over a long period of time, or is this guy a kook or some kind of extremist?'"


Kloppenburg said she has worked for Democrats and Republicans. She said court cases shouldn't be politicized.


"I do not see the court that way, and I don't intend to be a part of any block," Kloppenburg said. "I have kept my political and personal beliefs aside for the 22 years that I have been at the department of justice."


Prosser said Kloppenburg has aligned herself with liberals and has no experience as a judge or in public office. He said Kloppenburg's campaign has put out misinformation and wants to make this election about one issue.


"It is very disturbing that the Kloppenburg campaign is working hand in glove with people who want to stir up emotions and anger, and they forget that we're picking a justice to serve on hundreds and hundreds of cases over the next 10 years," Prosser said.


"If the people of Wisconsin permit this election to be about deciding a specific case before it is ever argued, we will destroy the independence of the judiciary and turn the Wisconsin Supreme Court into another branch of the Legislature," he said.


Bios

David Prosser (I)


Age: 68


City: Madison and Appleton


Job: Wisconsin Supreme Court justice


Education: Bachelor's degree, DePauw University in Indiana; law degree, UW-Madison.


Elected posts: Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1998-present; Wisconsin Assembly, 1979-1996; Outagamie County District Attorney, 1976-1978.


***


JoAnne Kloppenburg


Age: 57


City: Madison


Job: Assistant Wisconsin attorney general


Education: Bachelor's degree, Yale; master's degree, Princeton University; law degree, UW-Madison.


Elected posts: None



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