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WISTAX - "The Great 2008 ‘Paper Debate' - Featuring Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates Louis Butler and Michael Gableman"

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The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance - "The Great 2008 ‘Paper Debate' - Featuring Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates Louis Butler and Michael Gableman"

The Questions

The following information was provided by The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), the state's oldest and most respected private government research organization.

1. Why are you running for the Supreme Court?

2. How would you characterize your judicial philosophy?

3. What unique talents, experiences or insights would you add to the court that would improve it?

4. Over the next 10 years, in what area of the law do you predict the Wisconsin Supreme Court will have the most impact?

More information about the Supreme Court race can be found at www.wistax.org.

The incumbent

Name: Louis Butler

Professional experience: I have been a judge for more than 15 years — four years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and 12 years in Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee in Wisconsin's busiest courts.

For more than 13 years before that, I practiced appellate and trial law as a public defender, helping Wisconsin's poorest citizens. I also directed a clinic and served as an adjunct assistant professor of law at Marquette Law School. I was chosen to serve on the faculty of the National Judicial College, where for more than 10 years, I have trained judges from all over the country.

Awards and distinctions: 2006: "Humanitarian of the Year" by the American Federation of Teachers, Local 212; 2005: NAACP Foot Soldiers' Award, Outstanding Citizen's Award from the Wisconsin Council of Deliberations, Prince Hall Masons; 2004 and 2002: Trail Blazer Award presented by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Memberships: Permanent faculty member, National Judicial College. Judges from across the country and around the world receive judicial training through the College; Judge, Southwestern Law School Moot Court Competition, Los Angeles; State Bar of Wisconsin and Milwaukee Bar Association; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers; Community Brainstorming Conference; Personnel Review Board; American Inns of Court

1. Supreme Court? I first became a lawyer, then a judge, and now a Justice, because I am dedicated to achieving equal justice for all people, including the downtrodden and those who lack resources. I embrace the sentiment that injustice to anyone is intolerable and that everyone should have access to the courts and a right to be heard. Having been appointed to the Supreme Court four years ago, I enjoy working with my colleagues in achieving that goal and believe that my input has had an impact on the court's decision-making process.

I have a broad and deep experience with the law. In addition to serving as a judge at three different levels city, county and statewide, I also worked as a practicing attorney in criminal trials, and as an appellate lawyer. It is this combination of experience that has earned me the endorsement of more than 200 judges and 20 district attorneys, as well as five of Wisconsin's largest police organizations representing more than 18,000 law enforcement personnel. I'm proud to be supported by both business groups like the Realtors Association and labor groups like the AFL-CIO. I'm supported by both major firefighters associations in the state, by consumer and senior citizens' groups, and by mayors, legislators, sheriffs, practicing attorneys and citizen leaders from every corner of the state.

2. Judicial philosophy? The courts engage in dispute resolution between parties who have been unwilling or unable to resolve their disputes. Within that context, I strongly believe that the role of the judiciary is to interpret and apply the law to a given set of facts, not make law. The process I go through is to look first at the U.S. Constitution, then the Wisconsin Constitution, state statutes where the legislature has spoken, our common law where the legislature has not spoken, and our prior precedent. In evaluating the facts through that lens, I try to reach a just result in every case always following the law.

I also consider myself to be a textualist. I find it to be more effective to "read the words on the page," discerning what the legislature has actually done, as opposed to what I think it may have intended to do.

I reject the idea that judges can be labeled as "conservative" vs "liberal," which are partisan labels only valid when a jurist is unethically walking into cases with a policy bias or a bias towards one party or another. I also believe that "activist" and "traditionalist" are meaningless labels. Those who disagree with the result in a particular case are usually quick to label the judges who decided that case as "activist."

Our court is balanced, with different perspectives and backgrounds from each of the seven justices. This balance lends to good discussion and to fair and just application of the law.

3. Unique talents, experiences, insights? As the first and only African-American on the state Supreme Court, I bring a unique perspective to the court and the cases we hear. I am the only court member who spent more than a decade serving our state's poorest citizens, and I am the only court member from Milwaukee, our state's largest and most diverse metropolitan area.

In addition, as a justice on the Supreme Court, I believe that I must apply the law fairly, impartially, and neutrally in every case. I am concerned that my opponent has categorized himself in political terms, and is openly discussing his biases and how he would bring a political agenda to the bench. This public discussion of his bias suggests that many parties in his courtroom are not getting a fair shake. Parties have the right to expect that they will receive fair, unbiased treatment in every courtroom. Doctrinaire activists like my opponent should be concerned that the brand of "justice" they intend to dispense is neither fair nor just.

My view is starkly different. I believe a judge must never decide a case prior to hearing it. I will continue to do as I have for more than 15 years on the Municipal, Circuit, and Supreme Court bench: treat every litigant fairly and equally, and apply the law without bias in a neutral, detached, impartial and independent manner.

4. Most impact? For me, the law is more than a profession; it is a way of life. I take pride in being an impartial and neutral jurist who bases my decisions on our state and U.S. Constitutions. I listen carefully to the arguments being made, and read carefully not only the briefs in a case, but the cases those briefs cite, and the cases cited within those cases, etc. It is critical that a judge deeply understand the law, and how it came to be.

I understand that our decisions often become precedent that will stand for many years. Without a crystal ball, I can't say what cases might come before the court, and in what area of the law the Supreme Court will have the greatest impact. The bottom line is that each of the decisions we make as a court not only affect the parties in the cases we hear, but all Wisconsin citizens for generations to come. This job requires tremendous patience, hard work and a commitment to upholding the law.

I have voted 97 percent of the time to uphold the conviction of a defendant when they try to bring a case to our court, but sometimes the law requires we order a new trial or give a person their freedom. I strive to hold all wrongdoers accountable, which sometimes means standing up for the little guy. In some cases, we may feel sympathy for the personal circumstances of a particular party, but in order to uphold the law, we must rule against them. I take seriously the awesome responsibility to stay faithful to the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions, and to the laws passed by our legislature.

The challenger

Name: Michael Gableman

Professional experience: I have been a Circuit Court Judge since 2002. Prior to serving on the bench, I was a criminal prosecutor, first serving as an assistant district attorney in Langlade and Marathon Counties, and then as District Attorney of Ashland County. I was also Deputy Corporation Counsel of Forest County and worked in private practice. Prior to entering law school, I taught for two years, including one year teaching in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Awards and distinctions: Graduated with honors from Hamline University School of Law; Led the establishment of ongoing Inmate Community Service and Restorative Justice Program and the Burnett County Drug and Alcohol Court; Past Grand Knight — Ashland Council, Knights of Columbus; adjunct professor, Hamline University School of Law; history teacher, Milwaukee Public Schools

Memberships: Wisconsin Judicial Council; State Bar of Wisconsin; Burnett County Bar Association; Knights of Columbus; Rotary International; Fraternal Order of Moose; Masons

1. Supreme Court?: I am running because I know how important the Supreme Court is to the prosperity and safety of our state. I wouldn't want to live anywhere except Wisconsin, and I want to give back to people who have been so good to me and my family.

I believe my diverse background as a judge, prosecutor and teacher will allow me to bring a unique perspective to the court. In fact, I am the only candidate for the Supreme Court with any experience as a criminal prosecutor. In recent years, we've seen a number of court decisions that have expanded the rights of criminals-making it more difficult for law enforcement to do the job of keeping us safe. I believe my understanding of law enforcement issues would be valuable to the Supreme Court as it reviews cases that will have a direct impact on public safety.

I've been active in my community with groups like Rotary and Knights of Columbus. I also work with a program aimed at preventing domestic violence and I started a Drug Court aimed at preventing recidivism amongst young people.

Finally, I've been fortunate to have lived in some of Wisconsin's largest cities...as well as some of the smallest. I'll be able to bring that outlook with me to the court as well.

2. Judicial philosophy? A judge, or justice, should fairly and impartially apply the plain language of the law to the facts of each case. As a judge and former prosecutor, I understand how individuals, businesses and families are impacted by the courts.

I believe that justice comes from administering the law with an understanding that its source is the consent of the governed, not one's own personal ideology. I also believe that people want their constitutional liberties to be protected, the law to be interpreted practically and sensibly, and for justice to prevail for all.

In our system of government, courts have an important, albeit distinct, role to play that is separate from the legislature and the governor. I will not legislate from the bench. Whoever comes before my court can be sure they will get a fair and consistent approach from me.

One of the biggest differences between my opponent and me is our different judicial philosophies. As I stated, I believe judges are not legislators and should not impose their own agenda on the law. On the other hand, my opponent has carved out a record as an activist and liberal who has consistently voted to create new rights for criminals and new causes of action for trial lawyers to bring lawsuits. Voters on April 1 will get to decide whose approach they agree with.

3. Unique talents, experiences, insights? First and foremost, I would bring a law enforcement background to our state's highest court. I spent most of my professional career as a criminal prosecutor. I worked on cases as diverse as sexual assault, arson, domestic violence and white collar crime. As a prosecutor I worked closely with crime victims to make sure their rights not just the criminals' rights were taken into consideration. Helping make our state a safer place is something I take very seriously.

Much like our respective judicial philosophies, my opponent and I have a very different set of experiences we bring to the court. While I am a former prosecutor, my opponent was a criminal defense lawyer prior to becoming a judge. My law enforcement credentials and common sense approach to the law are the reason I have the bi-partisan backing of a majority of Wisconsin's sheriffs and district attorneys.

4. Most impact? Obviously, it is impossible to predict what cases will be before the Supreme Court in the future. However, the Supreme Court in recent years has handed down important decisions in areas as diverse as education policy, the environment, health care, economic development and, of course, public safety.

My law enforcement background and belief that it is the legislature not the court who should be making law, provide me with the foundation to serve as an effective member of our state's highest court.


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