The Democratic challenger has defeated the incumbent Republican in an election for a seat on the Wisconsin State. Supreme Court. This is big, great news, and it has national significance, for two reasons.
First, Wisconsin is a critical swing state, and the Democratic victory augurs well for this November. Elections have been close in Wisconsin in recent years. Trump won narrowly in 2016; the Dems won narrowly in 2018. This 53-47% margin of victory was solid.
No less importantly, this outcome represents a stunning failure of what is now clearly a nationwide Republican strategy of voter turnout suppression by all available means. That strategy would seem all the more promising under conditions of pandemic. The right-wing propaganda machine has generally downplayed the severity of the plague, with measurable success: polls show that Republicans are generally more sanguine about the coronavirus than Democrats and independents. It is therefore reasonable to expect that Republican voters would generally be more willing to take the health risk of going to the polls. That apparently didn’t happen in Wisconsin.
The role of the courts in the Wisconsin election, and especially of the US Supreme Court, is depressingly noteworthy. Holding an election under conditions of pandemic and social distancing is obviously problematic. Wisconsin’s Democratic governor attempted first to postpone the election, then to facilitate balloting by mail. He was blocked by the GOP-dominated legislature. The legislature in turn was backed up by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and then by the Supreme Court of the United States. The SCOTUS opinion, the product of the 5-4 right-wing majority on the Court, is ostensibly based on technical grounds which are in any case dubious. It also contains errors of fact, perhaps reflecting the haste with which it was contrived. More significantly, the opinion doesn’t acknowledge the coronavirus crisis as a relevant consideration in its decision. By its silence, the Court majority in effect held that the pandemic poses no challenges to the conduct of elections in a democracy. That is nothing short of ridiculous, but it comports nicely with the Republican strategy of voter suppression. This decision should have been a straightforward 9-0 in favor of optimizing the chances for a fair election under excruciating crisis conditions. Instead, the Court majority put to rest any doubt that it prioritizes partisanship over democracy.
Wisconsin provided a test, not only of the GOP’s political strategy, but of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy. Both failed.