“We beat the NRA!” Judge Rebecca Dallet announced as she claimed her pattern-breaking win in a contentious race for a position on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Dallet trounced conservative Judge Michael Screnock, securing 56 percent of the vote statewide to become the first liberal contender elected to an open seat on the high court since 1995. Dallet will replace one of its most right-wing members, retiring Justice Michael Gableman.
The outcome of the first such high-profile statewide contest of 2018 signaled that the influence of the National Rifle Association is far less of a defining force in swing states such as Wisconsin than was once imagined.
Conservatives built their dominance in Wisconsin judicial races over the past several decades by pulling together classic right-wing coalitions. Although these contests are decided on a nonpartisan ballot, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his fellow partisans relied on the infrastructure of the Republican Party and its allies—such as the NRA, anti-choice groups, and corporate interests—to generate enthusiasm in traditionally low-turnout spring elections.
Screnock, who had long been involved with right-wing causes, earned an enthusiastic endorsement from the the NRA’s political operation before the Supreme Court primary election in February. In fact, on the day before a gunman murdered 17 students, teachers, and coaches at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Chris W. Cox, the national chairman of the the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, identified Screnock’s campaign as a priority for the group and said, “It’s important that all pro-Second Amendment voters get to the polls on Feb. 20 and elect Judge Michael Screnock to the state Supreme Court.”
Screnock finished first in the primary, which set up Tuesday’s contest with Dallet.
While mailings from the gun group identified Screnock as “the candidate who has committed” to the NRA’s agenda, Dallet bet that Wisconsinites were ready for a sensible response to gun violence—and to the special-interest groups that thwart necessary action. “It’s lawful to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of dangerous criminals and those who shouldn’t have them,” she argued. “I value human lives over money. My opponent cannot say the same.”
Running in a state with a hunting heritage and high levels of gun ownership, Dallet explained: “In Wisconsin, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible people. Hunting will remain one of our state’s favorite pastimes. In my court, I’ll always defend our rights and the rule of law. Common-sense gun restrictions are clearly constitutional.” And she went a step further, highlighting the fact that her opponent was backed by the NRA and that she was not.