The Corner

Justice Prosser vs. the Calendar

Voters heading to the polls in Wisconsin today probably think Supreme Court Justice David Prosser’s challenger is liberal attorney Joanne Kloppenburg. They would be wrong.

Prosser is running against Pope Gregory XIII, who, on February 24, 1582, instituted the Gregorian calendar. (How they knew that day was February 24 of 1582 is anyone’s guess.) The reason Prosser is in such a dogfight for his seat is solely a byproduct of the calendar — he made the mistake of first being elected exactly ten years before Gov. Scott Walker tried to limit public-sector-union power in Wisconsin. Let that be a warning to future supreme-court candidates.

Normally, off-year spring elections are reserved for the 15 percent of Wisconsin voters who are political fetishists. The people who still hold basement candlelight vigils for Adlai Stevenson. The people who write horrifying folk songs about Supreme Court races.

Yet given its proximity to Governor Walker’s budget-repair bill, this election will drive spring election turnout to untold heights. (Brief personal aside: Turnout in my Madison precinct this morning was the highest I had ever seen it.) Truth is, Joanne Kloppenburg would have liberal support if she were a roast beef sandwich. (In fact, a law degree and mayonnaise may be the only thing that distinguishes them.) The Left has done an effective job of tying Prosser to Scott Walker, and casting voting against the incumbent justice as simply a way to “get back” at Walker.

In fact, in an unprecedented development, voters may put a supreme-court justice on the bench solely to vote a certain way on a single lawsuit. Union groups are spending millions of dollars to put Kloppenburg on the court in order to throw out Walker’s collective-bargaining bill. Then, the state gets her for ten more years.

Think of what the world was like ten years ago — there was no Twitter, no Facebook, and cell phones were still a toy for the opulent. Who can guess what the state will look like ten years from now? For all we know, we could be fighting the machines. But Wisconsin will still have Kloppenburg as a remnant of a brief, tumultuous time in the state’s history.

If “JoKlo” wins, Scott Walker essentially becomes The Probationary Governor. Every new law he signs will be quickly tossed onto a conveyor belt to the state supreme court, where Wisconsin residents will have to await Kloppenburg’s decree as to whether it will stand or not. If liberals take a one-vote majority on the supreme court, Kloppenburg essentially becomes a super-governor, able to override the wishes of the duly elected executive and legislative branches.

And thus is thrown out any discussion of Prosser’s judicial temperament or philosophy. Instead, this election all comes down to money — and how much of it the public unions are going to get. As a young African American once told Ted White during the 1960 presidential election, “They could put a dog at the head of that ticket and if they called him Democratic I’d vote for him. This hoolarium about civil rights doesn’t mean anything to me — it’s the man that puts money into my pocket that counts.”

In any other election in any other year, Prosser wouldn’t even be able to see Kloppenburg in his rear-view mirror. But in the past few months, Prosser’s life has turned into a horrifying Hilaire Belloc children’s story: “David, the Justice Who Was Conservative and Was Devoured by the Public Employee Unions.” The calendar has sunk its fangs into him. And it alone may chart the future of Wisconsin.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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