MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman announced Thursday he will not seek a second term next year, creating an open seat on the state’s highest court unless he resigns and a replacement is named before the election.
Gableman did not say in a statement announcing his decision whether he would serve out his term or leave before the April election. His spokesman, Nathan Conrad, said it was his “understanding” that Gableman planned to serve out his term which runs until August 2018.
There has not been a Supreme Court race without an incumbent since 2007.
Gableman thanked voters for electing him in 2008 and said he was satisfied that he had “fulfilled my promises and put my judicial philosophy into practice. I trust the people of Wisconsin will elect a successor who is similarly committed to the rule of law.”
Gableman, 50, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
If he resigned, Republican Gov. Scott Walker would name a replacement who could seek the seat as an incumbent in the April election. Walker issued a statement saying Gableman “has demonstrated an untiring commitment to the rule of law and the proper role of the judiciary during his time on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
Gableman is part of a five-justice conservative majority and has been at the forefront of some of the court’s most controversial rulings of the past decade. He was lead author of the 2014 ruling upholding Walker’s Act 10 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. He also took the lead on the 2015 ruling ending a John Doe investigation into Walker and conservative groups.
Gableman joined with the conservative majority of the court in rejecting a proposal that would have required Wisconsin judges and justices to step down in cases involving those who had donated to their campaigns. He and others who opposed the change said it ran counter to the constitutional free speech rights of those who are involved with judicial campaigns.
He defeated Justice Louis Butler, the state’s first African American justice, and the first incumbent to lose in 41 years.
Gableman included comments from the four other conservative justices in his statement announcing his decision, but nothing from the two liberals on the court. A message seeking comment from them left with court spokesman Tom Sheehan was not immediately returned.
“His thoughtful insights and dedication to the rule of law will be greatly missed,” Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said.
The election is April 3 and there will be a primary on Feb. 20 if three or more candidates get in the race.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet and Madison attorney Tim Burns are running for the court. They are pitching themselves as more moderate or liberal alternatives to Gableman.
Burns reacted to the news on Twitter, saying “For too long, the conservative majority of #SCOWIS has been looking out for the special interests.” He also tweeted, “The political values of judges matter.”
Dallet reacted by saying she’s running for the court because it is “out of balance.”
“Justice Gableman is clearly part of the problem,” she said in a statement. “But it’s not just about him, it’s about the direction of the court. I’m confident voters will see the need for experience and impartiality, and I’m looking forward to earning the voters’ trust.”
Dallet has been a circuit court judge in Milwaukee since 2008. She’s pitching herself as an independent choice, while also courting Democrats at their state convention earlier this month. Burns, an insurance attorney who’s donated about $45,000 to state Democratic candidates the past decade, is taking a more clear partisan stand in the officially nonpartisan race.
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