Wisconsin Supreme Court election fights have been some of the most intense and bizarre elections we have covered over the years.
According to US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.” Maybe, maybe not, but in Wisconsin there sure are conservative and liberal judges, and the battle for control of the court has moved in sync with the battle by former Governor Scott Walker to wrestle control of the state from public sector employee unions.
Walker mostly succeeded in remaking both state government and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, though he lost his reelection bid in 2018.
For readers who have been with us a long time, you may recall the David Prosser, Jr. (conservative) versus JoAnne Kloppenburg (liberal) contest in April 2011, in the midst of the State House protests against Scott Walker’s reforms. In a Dewey versus Truman moment, Kloppenburg declared victory on election night, only to lose when the infamous Waukesha County was heard from.
It was a wild ride after election night, including a recount, until May 31, 2011, V-K Day – Kloppenburg Surrenders In Wisconsin:
There will be no Battle of the Bulging Ballot Bags.
JoAnne Kloppenburg just announced that she will not file a lawsuit challenging the recount which found her losing to David Prosser by 7004 votes.
As discussed here previously, Kloppenburg had alleged that there were “anomalies” in the election, including torn or open ballot bags.
The “ballot bag security” issue was phony not because there were no tears or openings, but because there was no evidence that this was deliberate or affected the vote at all. The Wisconsin Goverment Accountability Board rejected any suggestion that the election has other than routine, non-material adjustments, and specifically rejected the “ballot bag security” allegations.
There was a lack of reality to Kloppenburg’s position since the vote did not change much from election night to the canvass to the recount.
The supposedly “found” votes in Waukesha were not “found.” The votes were reported by the city of Brookfield on election night, but the Waukesha clerk initially failed to report those votes to the press on election night. The meme that Republicans stole the election was pure fantasy.
Just after Kloppenburg conceded, Prosser was accused by liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of putting her in a chokehold during an argument. After a law enforcement investigation, no charges were filed against Prosser. As we discussed in numerous posts, the evidence suggested Bradley was there aggressor and there was no chokehold, WI Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s abusive claim of abuse:
Wisconsin Justice Ann Walsh Bradley publicly accused Justice David Prosser of using a “chokehold” on her during an incident on June 13, 2011.
As discussed on Thursday, the investigative file shows that the accusation was false and misleading. Read my post, Turns out WI Justice Ann Walsh Bradley was the one with the anger management problem, for the details.
Prosser never choked Bradley, much less used a chokehold, even though Bradley told the public otherwise and sat by as Prosser was widely vilified for having choked Bradley.
There is another aspect of this case, however, which is just as troubling as the false accusation of a chokehold. Bradley has cynically use of the very real problem of workplace safety as both a sword with which to attack Prosser and a shield to deflect from her own aggressive conduct which precipitated the incident.
Whatever was the past history of acrimony on the Court, there was only one person on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who initiated a physical confrontation with another Justice, and that person was Bradley.
I quote extensively from the investigative file below, and include even longer excerpts in a companion post. (Note: Emphasis in the quoted sections is mine.) It is important that the record be quoted, because Bradley has been so vociferous and public in her claim that she is the victim of workplace violence while the facts show otherwise.
We also covered the 2016 Supreme Court election, when Kloppenburg tried again and lost again, this time to Justice Rebecca Bradley, Conservative wins WI Sup Ct election – “loss a punch to progressives”.
Yesterday was another big Wisconsin Supreme Court contest, to replace the retiring Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal who had been a thorn in the side of conservatives, and was a controversial figure. It was, in Wisconsin terms, the equivalent in ideological importance of having an election to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court.
National Democrats fought hard to elect Lisa Neubauer, running against Superior Court Justice Brian Hagedorn. Neubauer was considered to be the sure winner, much like Hillary Clinton.
Voters had other ideas, and as of this writing with all precincts counted, Hagedorn has a 5957 vote lead. In recount terms, that’s a mountain to climb.
Hagedorn declared victory.
But as of this writing, Neubauer has not conceded.
— Judge Brian Hagedorn (@judgehagedorn) April 3, 2019
The margin is beyond the level at which the state will pay for a recount.
As of this writing, Neubauer has not indicated if she will pay for a statewide recount:
Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer isn’t conceding or saying whether she will seek a recount, despite being down by nearly 6,000 votes based on unofficial results.
Neubauer said in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday that “this race is still too close to call.” She says, “We need to make sure that every last vote is counted and that’s going to take a little time.”
Her opponent, Brian Hagedorn, has declared victory in Tuesday’s election and said a recount would be pointless.
Neubauer was backed by liberals while Hagedorn had conservative support. A Hagedorn win would keep the state Supreme Court under conservative control until at least 2023.
Neubauer would have to pay for a recount because the margin of victory wasn’t close enough to have taxpayers foot the bill.
As John McCormack at National Review points out, Democrats threw the kitchen sink at Hagedorn:
Hagedorn’s likely victory comes as a surprise to many. There wasn’t any public polling, but one Republican GOP operative in Wisconsin tells National Review that private polling in the closing weeks showed Hagedorn trailing by mid-to-high single digits.
Outside liberal groups heavily outspent conservative groups, and Democrats seemed to have all the momentum: They dominated the special elections last year, ousted incumbent governor Scott Walker in November by one percentage point, and reelected Senator Tammy Baldwin by eleven points. Tuesday’s results show that the conservative base is re-energized, and that the state remains a 2020 battleground.
The results also suggest that liberals overplayed their hand attacking religious and social conservatives. Neubauer and her liberal allies vilified Hagedorn as an anti-LGBT bigot because he had founded a Christian school that upholds Christian beliefs regarding sex and marriage, and because he had echoed comments from Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas — saying that, purely as a constitutional matter, laws against sodomy are no different from laws against bestiality — on a blog as a law student in 2005. His involvement with the Christian school caused one business group to withdraw its support.
Yet liberals lost, and it has them worried about 2020:
Cameron Joseph at liberal TPM surveys the liberal carnage:
The race was ostensibly nonpartisan. But Hagedorn was a top legal adviser to former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) before he became a judge, while Neubauer was a member of a top Democratic family in the state.
The race wasn’t even supposed to be all that close. Liberal groups deluged the state with ads backing Neubauer in recent weeks, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s organization, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the race. Hagedorn faced brutal coverage in state over his hostile views on gay rights and controversial writings as a law school student from a decade ago, and was largely left out to dry by conservatives until a last-minute injection of cash from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Even with that million-dollar investment from the RSLC, liberals outspent conservatives on the airwaves by a wide margin in the race, and strategists in both parties told TPM just days before the election that they expected Neubauer would win by a few points.
But in a result eerily reminiscent of the 2016 presidential election in the state, liberals’ heavy focus on social and culture war issues they believed would be disqualifying over pocketbook issues appeared to backfire, as a surge in the vote from more culturally conservative areas around greater Green Bay, exurban Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s Northwoods more than made up for big turnout in Madison, while Milwaukee’s turnout once again lagged behind the state.
Democrats had hoped they’d turned a corner in the competitive state after last year, when they won back the governorship for the first time since 2010 and saw Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reelected by a double-digit margin months after winning another state supreme court race by nearly double digits. They thought that was a sign they might have righted the ship heading into the 2020 presidential election, where Wisconsin is one of the three biggest swing states on the map along with Pennsylania and Michigan.
This close result shouldn’t be over-interpreted as a sign the GOP is back on the march in the closely divided state — a close off-year election in April with relatively low turnout isn’t the same as a presidential race, as Republicans saw when President Obama easily won the state in 2012 after the GOP’s big wins across the state just months earlier. And President Trump’s standing in the state isn’t as good as some other Republicans’ due to the damage his trade wars have done to some local industries. But the results show that Republicans are indeed fired up heading forward — and suggest the state will be the ultimate battleground next year.
Feels rather similar to Trump’s upset win. Liberals thought they could disqualify the conservative on social issues (Judge Hagedorn wrote some pretty nasty stuff about gay people) and didn’t focus much on pocketbook issues. That seemed to backfire disastrously. https://t.co/QvLWI98T6H
— Cameron Joseph (@cam_joseph) April 3, 2019
Republicans fired up in Wisconsin? That’s not what’s supposed to be happening after the 2018 blue wavelet.
Democrats are depressed over the result:
Eric Levitz at New York Magazine notes Democrats May Have Just Lost Wisconsin for a Decade, claiming retaking the Supreme Court was the only way for Democrats to cope with pro-Republican gerrymandered state districts. Charles Pierce at Esquire declared Wisconsin’s Progressive Tradition Is Dead. Walkerism Is Not.
The result is not final final, there’s always the possibility of a recount and a different result. But that’s highly highly unlikely given that recounts usually only change a couple of hundred votes, not several thousand.
If it holds, this is a body blow to the left-wing in Wisconsin, and a harbinger of good in 2020 for Trump in Wisconsin.