Michael Screnock, Rebecca Dallet advance in SCOWIS primary

Judge Rebecca Dallet, Judge Michael Screnock, Tim Burns

MADISON — The conservative choice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Michael Screnock, advanced to the general election along with Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet, who bested a liberal Madison attorney in Tuesday’s primary.

Tim Burns, who took the unusual approach of running as a Democrat and taking partisan stands on issues, was eliminated.

Screnock and Dallet will face off in the April 3 general election. The winner will replace retiring Justice Michael Gableman on the court. He is part of a five-justice conservative majority. There are two liberal justices.

Screnock benefited from more than $670,000 in spending from conservative groups and the Wisconsin Republican Party to bolster his candidacy. He was also endorsed by three anti-abortion groups and the National Rifle Association. Republican Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., recorded robocalls for him just before the election.

Screnock was appointed as a judge by Walker in 2015. He previously worked as an attorney defending the Act 10 law and legislative maps drawn by Republicans that are now being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Screnock argued he was the only candidate in the race running on his judicial philosophy and not political ideology. Screnock said he believed in upholding the rule of law and in a strict interpretation of the state constitution.

Kerry Koppen, a 52-year-old micro-market salesman from Sun Prairie, said he voted for Screnock. The Sauk County judge seemed to be the least partisan, Koppen said. He described himself as a conservative but said he was open to Dallet until she grew more partisan.

“They’re supposed to be judges, not politicians,” Koppen said.

Dallet, a former prosecutor first elected judge in 2008, tried to win over Democrats, running an ad critical of President Donald Trump and saying the state Supreme Court was wrong to end an investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker. She became more outspoken in her positions in reaction to Burns, presenting herself as an advocate for women’s rights, saying the Supreme Court was wrong to uphold Walker’s Act 10 collective bargaining law and fighting mass incarceration of minorities.

Gary Geller, an 81-year-old retired salesman from Madison, voted for Dallet because she’s a judge and a woman. Geller said he’s a Democrat but he didn’t consider the candidates’ partisan backgrounds.

“I feel woman judges are more compassionate and have better understanding,” Geller said. “She had the years of experience as a judge and a prosecutor.”

Burns took the unusual approach of identifying as a Democrat and stating his support for numerous liberal issues, including fighting voter ID requirements and arguing for income equality. He argued that it’s a farce to call Supreme Court races nonpartisan given how much money liberal and conservative interests put into the races.

Burns won the backing of several current and former liberal lawmakers and groups, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. Dallet had the backing of more than 200 judges and 150 other elected officials across the state.

Elections Commission director Michael Haas said there were no reports of polling locations not being able to open due to a storm that brought snow, ice and flooding across the state, but turnout was low.

Turnout had been expected to be in the single digits even before the storm system was in he forecast. Average turnout in spring primaries like this one where the Supreme Court is the only race on the statewide ballot has been 7.3 percent the past two decades, according to the Elections Commission.