Judicial Election Could Decide Fate Of Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law

There’s an election in Wisconsin on Tuesday that could end up deciding the fate of the state’s controversial collective bargaining law:

Scott Walker’s anti-union team could suffer a big defeat in Wisconsin’s April 5 Supreme Court election. If Dem-backed JoAnne Kloppenburg defeats Republican David Prosser, she could lead a 4-3 majority to overturn Walker’s anti-union law. (Kloppenburg has telegraphed as much, saying “The events of the last few weeks have put into sharp relief how important the Supreme Court is as a check on overreach in the other branches of government.”) Worse, a Prosser loss will be played up in the national press as a voter repudiation of Walker and his agenda-a turning of the tide, second Tunisia, Spring Awakening, etc.  The left is already gloating over private polls that show the race close-not good news for an incumbent in a low-turnout election. … What’s more, it looks as if the left has the money advantage, in part because Prosser opted for public financing.

Wisconsin conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes agrees:

I think it will be close: the left is engaged and enraged. We conservatives are engaged. Don’t know about the independents. This is a traditionally very low turnout election and if the unions turn out their troops, there might be enough votes to flip the court. But no one on our side is complacent about this. We understand that, as you say, it is for all the marbles.

This will turn on how the race is defined: if voters decide based on credentials: Prosser wins; if they see it as a choice between a liberal and a conservative judge, Prosser wins; if it turns on who is tough on crime, Prosser wins.

But, if it is seen as a referendum on Walker or the union bill, Kloppenburg has a very real shot.

This in a state where a sitting State Supreme Court Justice losing a re-election bid is nearly as rare as Halley’s Comet. This in a state that just 4 months ago (feels like years) voted overwhelmingly for Republican rule.

The left seems to have been paying more attention to this race than the right, and a defeat for Prosser her will undoubtedly energize them.
FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    While I 100% disagree with Walker’s bill, this is a great example of why Supreme Court Judges should not be popularly elected, something Republicans want to do here in Iowa.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    It gets more surreal:

    Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining law has not been published and is not in effect, a judge has ordered.

    Judge Maryann Sumi ordered Thursday morning that the law “has not been published within the meaning” of Wisconsin law and “is therefore not in effect.”


    Of course, it has been published and now she’s making law to preserve the TRO. Doug may be right that the procedural mess may not ultimately help the Republicans, who appear distracted with tactics and not strategy.

  3. Jay Dubbs says:

    Walker and the GOP’s decision to ignore the TRO only make it more likely that Prosser will lose this election. And it is so stupid, instead of just repassing the law without the legal ambiguity, as the Dane County Court suggested, they want to fight the judiciary. PD is right, there is no strategy, only reactions. If I were a Wisconsin GOPer, I would be really worried about these guys leading my party off the cliff. They may be about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  4. wr says:

    Jay Dubbs — And what’s even more insane is that there’s a third option besides repassing the law, and that’s waiting for a week or so for the judge to decide whether the original passage was legitimate. It’s not like she had ruled against it — she put out a TRO while she waited to hear or decide on the issues. There is absolutely no reason for Walker and their crew to be in such a hurry.

  5. Jay Dubbs says:

    wr – that’s very true, but then they may be conceding that the Court has some authority over them, which so far doesn’t seem to be something they are willing to concede.

  6. wr says:

    I do understand that — but is the Republican government of Wisconsin so insane that they’ve actually decided that they are above the law? Is this the real goal of the Tea Party — to whine about freedom while working to establish a dictatorship of people who agree with them?

  7. While I 100% disagree with Walker’s bill, this is a great example of why Supreme Court Judges should not be popularly elected, something Republicans want to do here in Iowa.

    This is exactly what I wanted to say. Judicial branches should NEVER be beholden to elections, as a recent election that took out judges that said anti-gay legislation was unconstitutional. It’s reactionary, and reactionary thinking is dangerous.