The Problem: The past two years of ill-advised pandemic policies, increasing violent crime rates, anti-police movements and rioting have taught Wisconsin a hard lesson about the state of our criminal justice system. Among other things, the misplaced priorities of a concerted effort to lower incarceration rates (i.e. through lower bail policies) have been exposed at the expense of more and more victims.
Police forces across the state are understaffed due to retirements and struggling recruitment. Wildly inconsistent sentencing across the state has for years caused confusion and pain for both victims and perpetrators as judges hand down sentences varying from the extremely lenient to the extremely harsh for similar crimes. In a state with a great deal of judicial discretion in sentencing, the judicial philosophy and caliber of the judges appointed and elected to office is a crucial factor in determining the justice of the criminal justice system.
Although judges are selected through non-partisan elections in Wisconsin, the state’s governor has the responsibility to appoint judges to fill vacancies. During his eight years in office, former Gov. Scott Walker appointed seventy-two judges, including stalwart defenders of the Constitution and the First Amendment such as Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley and Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock, and tough on crime judges like Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Brad Schimel. On the other hand, ideologically liberal Milwaukee judges are contributing to a trend of awarding low bail to defendants with a violent criminal history and then handing them over to the questionable monitoring methods of a non-profit “alternative to incarceration” that most infamously mishandled the case of the violent criminal who allegedly plowed down Christmas parade-goers in Waukesha last year.
The Solution: What we need now more than ever are judges—and district attorneys—who have a concrete understanding of and loyalty to the Constitution along with an impeccable commitment to justice. A blind justice is still the best justice and a commitment to the Constitution is a protection against dangerous ideologies across the political and cultural spectrum. The Bill of Rights both protects individual liberties and guarantees the rights of the accused: it protects the basic freedoms we hold dear while also ensuring the accused are treated and judged with equity. Wisconsin needs judges who embrace the Constitution and prioritize justice over social movements or trending legal theories.
The responsibility to balance the protections of the Constitution with the government’s job to uphold public safety is one of the most important duties of our judges, and district attorneys. We cannot afford governors who appoint judges based on any criteria other than each judge’s commitment to the Constitution and to upholding impartial justice in the courtroom.