While You Were Distracted …

Believe it or not, there are other things happening around the nation and around the globe this week besides the arraignment and following circus show by the former president [sic].  For example, a U.S. reporter for The Wall Street Journal has been arrested and is being held prisoner in Russia on trumped-up (no pun intended) charges of being a spy.  Or, what about the three Tennessee legislators who may be ousted from their position for their participation in an anti-gun rally in the aftermath of the Nashville school shooting last week?  Or the upcoming election in Turkey where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be fighting to hold onto his authoritarian power.  While still more states here in the U.S. are pushing through voter suppression laws ahead of next year’s election.  And then, there’s Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin.  What, you ask, is so special about an off-year election in Wisconsin?  Well, for starters, it may well bring Wisconsin into the 21st century democratically speaking, and may have a big impact on women’s rights, as well as next year’s presidential election, but don’t take my word for it … see what Dan & Elliot have to say about it …

A Lesson From Wisconsin

Judge for yourself

By Elliot Kirschner and Dan Rather

06 April 2023

Wisconsin is a state known for its cheese, but now it may also be known for its tea leaves.

You can make a strong case that the biggest political news from yesterday was not the courtroom appearance of a former president in New York, but rather a state supreme court election in the Badger State.

These are the kinds of races that usually elicit more yawns than a kindergarten class after recess. But not this year. Not in Wisconsin. Not in our current political environment.

Officially, the race for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a nonpartisan affair. Officially. But there was no secret about where the political affiliations of the two candidates lay. Janet Protasiewicz telegraphed herself as a “progressive,” and her opponent Daniel Kelly is a “conservative.” And with an existing “conservative” justice retiring, the future balance of a court that had been evenly split hinged upon yesterday’s outcome.

This is especially important when you consider that Wisconsin may be the most embattled of battleground states. With the exception of President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, it has been decided by around a point or less in every presidential election from 2000 onward.

In 2022, the Democratic candidate for Senate barely lost to the Republican incumbent. It was a race that many Democrats now believe they let slip away.

Two places you won’t see evidence of Wisconsin’s battleground status, however, are its state legislature and its congressional delegation. They are both overwhelmingly Republican. And that’s telling. Republicans made the state among the most gerrymandered in the nation. It’s so bad that you might be hard-pressed to call Wisconsin a fully functional democracy.

This was the backdrop for yesterday’s Wisconsin election. And so was the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent dismantling of women’s reproductive rights. Abortion is currently illegal in Wisconsin due to a 174-year-old ban that took effect once Roe v. Wade was overturned. A liberal majority on the state supreme court is likely to change that. 

And it could overturn the gerrymandering and revisit a host of other policies Republican politicians and judges have pushed through. 

With all that at stake, it’s understandable that both sides poured money into the race — an eye-popping $42 million. For a single judgeship. Not surprisingly that total smashed all previous records of spending in court races.

In the end, the headlines weren’t only that Protasiewicz won, but the margin of her victory — 10 points — which in Wisconsin counts as a landslide.

There are a lot of lessons one can take from the results. First, the anger that many Americans feel about the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling has not dissipated. It was a motivating factor in the 2022 elections, in which Democrats overperformed. And it remains so in 2023. Should we expect that to extend into 2024?

There is also a sense that the Midwest gains Trump made in 2016 may be diminishing for the GOP.  At least somewhat. The Republicans lost big in Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2022. And now here again in Wisconsin.

Against this backdrop, it is worth reminding ourselves that we are generally in an era of a politicized judiciary. But to be fair, we’ve been there for a while. In a different world, one could hope that the judiciary would not be so politicized. But to start worrying about that only now in the wake of this race is to conveniently forget what we’ve seen over the last decades.

While both political parties have long histories of appointing judges to the bench who share their general world views, there has seldom, if ever, been anything like what the Republicans have attempted at both the state and federal levels over roughly the last 40 years.

If you want a perfect definition of “politicians in robes,” you need go no further than the current U.S. Supreme Court, which is handing down decision after decision that hews to Republican orthodoxy, but which they could never achieve legislatively — on abortion, guns, the environment, voting rights, workers’ rights, and on and on.

Nothing has defined the tenure of the Republicans’ Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, more than filling the bench with true believers. And blocking Democrats from filling the open seat left by the death of Antonin Scalia.

Finally, if we are really worried about politicized judges and elections, then we need to consider the overall health of our democracy. If Wisconsin weren’t so gerrymandered, if the state legislature weren’t so out of touch with so many of the voters, if it hadn’t banned abortion and subverted representative government, then we probably wouldn’t have had a state supreme court race making such headlines.

But this is where we are. And if you try to suppress the will of the people, eventually they will find a way to try to reset the balance. What just happened in Wisconsin is an encouraging example.

16 thoughts on “While You Were Distracted …

  1. Jill, I am very disappointed with what is happening with the Tennessee legislature where three Democrats are being voted out by a Republican majority because they participated in a protest about gun violence. So, to this independent and former Republican, the message is clear owning a gun without better governance is more important than children’s lives or the right to protest this fact.

    I left a message with the Tennessee Speaker of the House urging him not to go down this path. So, I want people to remember what is happening.


    Liked by 2 people

    • PS – Apparently, after ousting one of the Democrats, the push back on the Tennessee Republican led legislature’s brazen act caused them to not vote out the second. This ouster of the first Democrat goes down as an extremely unwise move. The state of Tennessee deserves better than this kind of BS. Keith

      Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, Keith! In fact, I am infuriated! First, they should not be removed from their seats because they participated in that protest! Good grief … are they not allowed to have an opinion that we need stronger gun laws in this country??? But second, as if the first outrage wasn’t bad enough, the two BLACK legislators were removed from their seats, but not the white woman who also participated in the protest! Tennessee is going to be a hotbed by this afternoon, I’m betting! I’m so angry over all of this that I was unable to write about it tonight for my a.m. post, but am hoping to by this afternoon. Good for you on leaving a message for the Tennessee Speaker … perhaps I shall too!


      • that doesn’t mean that he can’t still present some things worth thinking about? why do you always do this? marginalize the links that I share? it makes me feel that I’m not really a wanted part of the bigger conversation sometimes and maybe that’s just my issue but it still feels marginalizing. at least some other bloggers who we both follow consider my contributions.


        • I prefer to get my information/facts from experts in their field, Scott. If you don’t like my “marginalization” of the links you share on MY blog, then don’t put them here. Problem solved. Put them on the blogs of those who will believe whatever they hear, regardless the source.


  2. Thankfully, this turned out well for democracy. Another example of how the GOP and the religious right haven’t seen the last of the progressive/liberal voices of America.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “a U.S. reporter for The Wall Street Journal has been arrested and is being held prisoner in Russia on trumped-up (no pun intended) charges of being a spy.”
    Nothing special. US/RU doing it all the time. An accused Russian spy is right now in jail in America, so the Russians quickly grabbed an American spy for an inevitable prisoner exchange. These things happen all the time, since the late 40s.


  4. Pingback: While You Were Distracted … | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  5. It is encouraging, yes, greatly. But will the cases that need to be brought before the state Supreme Court, be brought. I will admit I don’t know how such things work, especially at the state level, but if the cases on abortion and gerrymandering are not brought before the court, the “political” make-up of the court will not matter.
    So I hope those cases will be brought, so that We the People will once again be in power in Wisconsin.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think they will. Time will tell, won’t it. If the gerrymandering case(s) happen before next November’s election, I’ll be happy. And Michigan’s governor just struck down an ages-old abortion law, so there’s more progress. Slowly, but surely …


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