Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

The Wisconsin Lesson


In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, John Fund has an interesting piece on Wisconsin supreme court justice Louis Butler’s electoral defeat last week.  Some excerpts:

On Tuesday, for the first time in over four decades, Wisconsin voters turned out an incumbent justice of their state supreme court. The election showed that, given a clear choice, voters usually prefer a judicial conservative to one with an activist bent.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court certainly bent the rule of law over the past four years, as a 4-3 liberal majority became the nation’s premier trailblazer in overturning its own precedents and abandoning deference to the legislature’s policy choices. Thus the defeat of Justice Louis Butler at the hands of Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman has national implications.… Judge Butler’s defeat sends a signal that a judge who dramatically oversteps traditional boundaries can be brought to account….

Wisconsin is in many ways a liberal state – it hasn’t voted Republican at the presidential level in decades – but its electorate showed this week that it favors judicial restraint over activism. 

The Wisconsin election provides further evidence that broad swaths of the public favor judicial restraint over liberal judicial activism.  That’s true not only in state judicial elections but in presidential politics and in Senate elections—when the candidates make the effort to tee the issue up properly. 

Tags: Whelan


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