Voters to determine Supreme Court’s direction

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to review eight cases ranging from guns on public buses to open records to how low-income properties are assessed to how far a police officer’s “hot pursuit” can extend into a citizen’s home. With less than a month before Wisconsin voters head to the polls to choose a Supreme Court justice, the variety and reach of the court’s chosen case load reminds us how important voters’ choice is.

For example, in State v. Weber, an officer turned on his lights to pull over Weber for a busted taillight. Weber proceeded to ignore the officer, pull into his attached garage and head into his house. The officer entered the garage without a warrant and detained Weber. Weber subsequently pled no contest to felony drunk driving (it was not his first time driving drunk).

The question the court will decide is whether the officer should have obtained a warrant before entering Weber’s garage. Even though he was drunk driving, the officer did not know that at the time and was only pursuing him for the minor offense of a broken taillight. Should law enforcement be permitted to enter private property without a warrant for such a minor offense?

In Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Justice, the court will decide on the appropriate balance between the public interest in keeping a record hidden versus the public’s right to know under Wisconsin’s open records laws. In this case, the Democratic Party sought videos in which Attorney General Brad Schimel, who was a candidate at the time, conducted training regarding victims of sensitive crimes and how to prosecute internet sexual predator cases.

The Democratic Party wanted the videos because they thought there might be some embarrassing things in the video that could be twisted against Schimel during the campaign. The DOJ refused to release the videos, saying the public interest in protecting the identities of the victims and the techniques used by investigators and prosecutors of internet sexual predator cases outweighed the public’s interest in seeing the videos. The Democratic Party disagreed and appealed. The court must decide where the appropriate balance lies between these competing public interests.

In Wisconsin Carry Inc. v. City of Madison, the court will decide if the city of Madison violated the state’s concealed carry law when implementing a ban on guns on public buses. Wisconsin’s concealed carry statute prohibits local units of governments from enacting an ordinance or resolution regulating the ownership, transportation, taxation or carrying of firearms.

The city of Madison has banned people from carrying firearms on city buses, but claims the statute does not apply because it is a “bus rule” and not an ordinance or resolution and that the rule was enacted by the city of Madison’s Transit and Parking Commission — not the city itself. Wisconsin Carry sued the city, arguing — rightly — the statute is designed to prevent local governments from enacting gun laws more restrictive than the state as a whole.

The Supreme Court must decide how the statute must be applied. Of course, in this case, the Legislature could have easily clarified the statute before now, but they must certainly do so next year if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the city of Madison.

As the highest court in the state, the Supreme Court decides cases that govern how the laws apply to us, how far our government can reach into our lives, how transparent our government must be and countless other important matters. As such, the selection of each justice on that court is of critical importance. On April 5, Wisconsin’s voters will choose between two drastically difference candidates.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg is running for the Supreme Court for the second time after being rejected by the voters five years ago. She is proudly a liberal’s liberal with a decidedly activist perspective regarding the role of a Supreme Court justice.

Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley was appointed to the court in 2015 and is on the other end of the judicial philosophy spectrum. She has demonstrated a healthy understanding that judges must act according to how the law is and not how they would like it to be.

Unlike the United States Supreme Court, the voters decide who sits on the state Supreme Court. Vote wisely.

Editor’s note: Owen Robinson posts the Around the Bend column by Judy Steffes ever Saturday

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Side note – Owen Robinson is a local blogger who publishes Around the Bend every Saturday.

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