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Judge Michael Screnock Campaigns Against Himself

If Michal Screnock applies his own rhetorical standard for judges to himself, could he earn his own support?

In this year’s race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, Michael Screnock often invokes the conservative mantra that a judge should decide cases based on the law as written. At the same time, the Sauk County judge laments what he views as excessive partisanship.

It is an interesting strategy, given the chasm between his words on the campaign trail and his actions over the years.

Screnock most blatantly put his own beliefs above the law when he was arrested for trespassing and resisting or obstructing officers on two occasions in 1989. The arrests stemmed from his participation in protests seeking to block women from entering and accessing legal health care services at a Madison clinic.

When questioned by the media about his actions, this “law and order” candidate said he has no regrets about his behavior. He has no remorse for preventing women from receiving services deemed legal by the U.S. Supreme Court. He has no qualms about refusing to comply with orders from law enforcement and giving a false name when taken into custody for his actions.

The disparity between Screnock’s words and actions doesn’t stop there.

He regularly accused his opponent of “deeply troubling” expressions of political beliefs. Yet he was part of legal teams defending Gov. Scott Walker’s divisive, partisan policies that attacked workers’ rights and the Republican rigging of legislative district lines.

After loyally serving to advance the Republican political agenda, Screnock was made a judge in 2015 — via a political appointment from Gov. Walker.

Now that he is running for the state Supreme Court, Gov. Walker’s campaign team has become Screnock’s campaign team. Based on a review of campaign finance reports filed in January, virtually every disbursement reported is to a vendor or consultant connected to the governor’s campaign team.

Public disclosures also reveal the Republican Party of Wisconsin made a contribution of over $140,000 directly to Screnock’s campaign, making this partisan political organization his largest single campaign donor.

Screnock seems to have overcome his opposition to detailing his views on issues while pandering for the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. In a mailing to potential voters, the NRA declared Screnock is the candidate who has committed to their agenda, having “vowed to protect your firearms freedom.”

Of course, other familiar conservative special interests who have spent millions to elect a state high court conservative majority also are making their down payments on Screnock. The state’s big corporate lobby and other right-wing front groups have poured over $663,000 into television and radio advertising to boost Screnock’s electoral prospects.

Far from decrying this interference, Screnock recently showed he would make their investment pay off by refusing to support reforming court rules to require judges to recuse themselves from cases involving parties that contribute large sums to judges’ campaigns.

So as we look to the April election, the question is: If Screnock applies his own rhetorical standard for judges to himself, could he earn his own support? If he’s being honest, it seems the answer would be no.

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Joanna Beilman-Dulin is the research director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute. She previously worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature where she focused on policy analysis and research.