Wisconsin's Supreme Court Justice Race Receives National Attention A normally obscure race for the officially nonpartisan Wisconsin Supreme Court has become a highly charged and polarized election. Candidates on both sides have brought the president into the contest.
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Wisconsin's Supreme Court Justice Race Receives National Attention

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Wisconsin's Supreme Court Justice Race Receives National Attention

Wisconsin's Supreme Court Justice Race Receives National Attention

Wisconsin's Supreme Court Justice Race Receives National Attention

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/599077705/599077706" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A normally obscure race for the officially nonpartisan Wisconsin Supreme Court has become a highly charged and polarized election. Candidates on both sides have brought the president into the contest.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, voters in Wisconsin elect that state's next Supreme Court justice. It is officially a nonpartisan post, but we live in a partisan time. For decades now, Republicans across this country have made every move they could to install conservative judges. And now, in this state election, big-name Democrats are involved. Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: There was a time years ago when national political figures couldn't care less about Wisconsin's Supreme Court. But this year's race has attracted several high-profile Democrats, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

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ERIC HOLDER: Good afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Good afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right.

HOLDER: Let's have some fun.

JOHNSON: Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee has run ads on behalf of Rebecca Dallet, the candidate favored by liberals in Wisconsin's Supreme Court race. During a forum in Milwaukee last month, Holder told the crowd that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would be up for election in November.

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HOLDER: And that's why we have to start, April 3, taking back Wisconsin. And the way to start is by casting that ballot, as I said, for Rebecca Dallet.

JOHNSON: Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske says Holder and others are trying to seize on Democratic enthusiasm.

JANINE GESKE: They think it's critical to get that Democratic base geared up and involved in this race, and then they hope to carry it on into November.

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Republicans have been rallying around conservative candidate Michael Screnock. The state GOP has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his behalf. Walker's lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, told the state's largest business group that the consequences in this race were huge.

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REBECCA KLEEFISCH: The man on the ballot who is about to address you could potentially hold the future of Wisconsin's success in his hands.

JOHNSON: As a lawyer, Screnock helped defend Walker's public-sector union law in court. Years ago, he also defended Wisconsin's redistricting plan, which is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Screnock has attacked Dallet for all the national attention she's getting, saying it doesn't reflect Wisconsin values.

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MICHAEL SCRENOCK: My opponent has spent the last month courting East Coast politicians and West Coast money in order to bring San Francisco values to the Badger State.

JOHNSON: A variety of conservative groups have come out in support of Screnock, spending big on his behalf. Dallet told Screnock they wouldn't just give that money away without expectations.

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REBECCA DALLET: There is some investment that these groups are making in you in order to get on the court so that you'll do their bidding.

JOHNSON: Conservatives currently have a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court. The question now is whether Democratic momentum in a nationalized election will change that. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT JORGENSEN'S "SPACE, PLANE AND LINE")

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