Weather Alerts 12 View »

The Dane County Circuit Court: A Tail That Wags The Dog


The Dane County Circuit Court: A Tail That Wags The Dog

CREATED Mar 13, 2012

Here we go again.  A second Dane County Circuit Judge has now issued a ruling blocking implementation of Wisconsin's Voter ID law.

I know, the United States Supreme Court has already ruled that Indiana's Voter ID law is constitutional.  I also know that many States have passed, in one form or another, Voter ID laws.

So why do we have decisions like this in Wisconsin?  Well, thank the Dane County Circuit Court, a tail that wags the dog in Wisconsin.

First, you need to understand that the law is, in many respects, an art not a science.  Lawyers who become judges bring their collective experience and world view with them when they take the Bench.  It's therefore not unusual for a judge who has spent his career as a criminal defense attorney to take a more lenient view toward a criminal defendant than would a judge who spent an entire career as a prosecutor.  It's not necessarily right or wrong, it's just a difference in perception.

Second, the voters in Dane County are probably more liberal (as a whole) than voters in any other county in Wisconsin.  It's therefore not surprising that the judges who get elected in Dane County are reflective of the voters in Dane County - and therefore more liberal than the population of Wisconsin as a whole.

Again, there's nothing wrong with this - it just is what it is.

The problem though is that the seventeen Circuit Court Judges in Dane County have, at least initially, a disproportionate impact on State policy.  That's because most litigation involving challenges to laws ends up being decided in the Dane County Circuit Courts.  As such, judges who tend to be more liberal have the first crack at ruling on matters of State law.

The good news is that, as with the Collective Bargaining law, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will ultimately have the final say on Voter ID.  In this regard, I'm pretty confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the validity of the Voter ID law.  In the meantime though, implementation of the law is on hold for at least the April elections and perhaps beyond.

I know a lot of people get frustrated with a system that has law after law filtered through the prism that is the Dane County Circuit Court system.  I certainly understand that sentiment - Dane County has always been the tail the wags the dog in this State.

That's why the Wisconsin State Supreme Court matters so much!