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Rights, Freedoms & the WI Supreme Court Race

On April 4th, Wisconsin voters have a somber choice to make as they decide between Supreme Court candidates Daniel Kelly and Janet Protasiewicz. Our rights as free people have long been under attack, and now they are actually at stake.


To understand the truth of this assertion, we need to define some key terms.


Defining Terms

Two terms, in particular, demand clarification: rights and freedoms.


Rights

What exactly is a ‘right’? More specifically, what is a natural right—the type of right that our Federal and State Constitutions were written to protect?

Natural rights are freedoms inherent to every person. In contrast to a privilege, a natural right can never be removed; but they can be purposely or accidentally violated. Our U.S. Constitution doesn’t create or provide rights; instead, it describes rights that we already possess and provides a form of written guarantee that government and others are forbidden from violating (infringing) our natural rights. That’s why, in most cases, the rights described in that document are asserted using the phrase “shall not.” Those “shall nots” are not fine lines that can be moved with the shifting sands of time and circumstance; they were written as bold lines, set in stone. Neither time nor circumstance in any way changes the importance of our natural rights.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution expresses some of our most important natural rights. One might even argue that without the ability to live out these rights, we cannot fully express the fullness of our humanity: for example, the right to have and express our own thoughts; to protect our own lives; or not to be mistreated or wrongly punished by government. The Bill of Rights is strongly echoed in our Wisconsin Constitution.


Our state courts were specifically established to protect our rights, which is why they are required to follow the rule of law and abide by both the U.S. and Wisconsin State Constitutions. Our courts’ most important duty is to ensure that our rights are not violated (infringed)—and that people who respect the natural rights of others remain free. In fact, according to its website: “The Wisconsin Court System protects individuals’ rights, privileges and liberties, maintains the rule of law, and provides a forum for the resolution of disputes that is fair, accessible, independent and effective.”


As our most powerful court, the State Supreme Court has constitutional authority not only to hear original cases that have significant bearing on state constitutional and statutory law, but also to review decisions made by lower courts. If a lower court decision potentially infringes on a right or a freedom, for instance, the Supreme Court can decide to hear arguments concerning that case and issue a decision. In the interest of properly protecting our rights and freedoms, constitutional law should always remain the Supreme Court’s highest standard in considering the facts and implications of a case.


Freedoms

What, then, is a freedom, or liberty? Liberty is the condition of being free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor; the condition of being free from oppressive restriction or control by a government or other power; a right to engage in certain actions without control or interference by a government or other power.


Liberty is not a privilege, it’s a natural right. How do you know if you are free? Ask yourself some questions…


Are you free if you can’t leave your home? That’s freedom of movement.

Are you free if you can’t see your family? That’s freedom of association.


Are you free if you can’t openly speak your opinion? That’s freedom of expression (speech).


Are you free if you can't have input into what your children are being taught—or decide where your children can attend school? To a large degree, that’s freedom of conscience—your right to decide what you think is right and good and to act on that determination.


Are you free if you lose your job because you reject a medical procedure or pharmaceutical intervention? That’s also a matter of freedom of conscience.


The natural rights that imbue our freedoms tend to layer into one another. Violate one right, and you’re almost certain to infringe on others.


How is your liberty impacted if you if you can’t walk alone at night in your neighborhood, because someone may do you bodily harm or rob you? Your personal sovereignty is at issue—your right to be free and secure in your person. But it also concerns your right to own property that others cannot take from you (including your own body and life) and your right to defend your own life and property if they are threatened.


What’s at issue if the state can shut your business down at will? Your property rights are certainly affected. But if losing the ability to use your property to produce income means you can no longer effectively sustain yourself or your family through the income it provided, you right to life is also threatened. Goodbye shelter. Goodbye food. Hello dependence. And if you lose your independence, someone else will have power to dictate many or all of the conditions of your existence. That’s loss of personal sovereignty. What do you call people who have no power to make their own decisions?


Assessing the Current State of Our Freedoms

When you think about the definitions provided above and answer all of those questions for yourself, do you think we’re currently free? Think, in particular, about the last three years and the changes we’ve all experienced. Are we more free or less free than we were?


When I ask myself these questions, my answer is no, we are not free. We have not been truly free for some time. The last three years, especially, have been an onslaught against every shred of freedom that remains to us. Our rights have been trampled, our liberty shattered, leaving us not as free as we were meant to be—or as free as we’d like to believe. Our state and world are in utter turmoil. In my own 61 years, I have never seen our country so divided or the waters so muddied over the rights we are meant to possess. This reality scares me. It should trouble us all enough to look past the smoke and mirrors that have surrounded the April 4th Supreme Court race.



Considering the Evidence

The April 4th Supreme Court race is a watershed moment for Wisconsin. Will we maintain our understanding of our rights and freedoms or instead allow ourselves to be fooled into exchanging everything that matters for the sake of a single, partisan, emotionally charged talking point that misleading political ads would have us believe is all that matters?


Most of Janet Protasiewicz’s campaign fire power has been directed toward the notion that she will somehow protect, defend, or otherwise save abortion in this state. Those who support her would have us believe this race hinges on this one issue. What they won’t tell you…? Neither Janet Protasiewicz alone nor the Wisconsin Supreme Court as a body has the power to overturn Wisconsin's abortion law. Courts can only rule in relationship to existing law. The prerogative to change the law rests with the State Legislature alone—with the elected representatives of the people.


That said, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may indeed be called to weigh in on cases that relate to abortion or the abortion industry in some manner. What can we expect of Protasiewicz if such cases come before her? She has already skirted and potentially violated Wisconsin’s judicial code of conduct by politically and ideologically labeling herself and hinting that her personal views would inform her rulings on abortion and other matters. That Protasiewicz makes her views on controversial issues known should already concern voters. Having done so, she’s entrenched herself in a single facet of a deeply complex issue. This is a serious red flag. What room does she give us to believe that she would remain impartial on this or any other issue?


It’s also important to understand that Protasiewicz has been notably soft on violent crime. It’s an additional clue to consider. Violent crime necessarily involves the violation of other people’s natural rights. How, then, should we understand her light-on-crime approach? Has she protected the personal sovereignty of law-abiding citizens like you and me, or our natural rights to life and property? If she hasn’t respected those rights on a lower court, is there reason to believe she would respect them in issuing decisions on our highest court?

Don’t forget: she’s already cuing us that her personal views will play a role in her decisions and how she rules on our rights and freedoms.

Is that what we trust—a justice willing to lean on her own opinions and biases, rather than the objective standards of constitutional and statutory law?

Moreover, Protasiewicz is supported by a tremendous amount of outside money that appears to prefer her lax-on-crime approach. So, whose interests will she ultimately serve? Would she be committed to the people of Wisconsin and their rights alone? It’s a real question. We all know the corrosive power that powerful outside donors can have on elected officials.


Yes, this election is about far more than just abortion.


Seeing the Forest for the Trees

We’ve been so divided by partisanship and emotionalism that it’s become difficult to see that we all agree on more issues than we think. We regularly and tragically fail to grasp how much common ground we actually have. Isn’t it time we stopped looking at things through the manipulative lens of “Left” vs “Right” or “Progressive” vs “Conservative” and instead focus on the things that most impact us all: the rights that embody the very essence of our daily existence as a free people?

Even the ballot tells us that a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat is supposed to be a non-partisan position. That non-partisanship is meant to benefit us. With the profound erosion our rights and freedoms have already undergone, we need someone with a balanced, impartial view who understands that their most important duty is to safeguard every right we’re meant to possess.


Instead of getting lost in false divisions, where can most of us agree? What keeps us all free?

  • Most of us don’t want violent criminals on the streets, continuing to threaten or harm us.

  • Most of us want to provide honestly for ourselves and our families, without fear that government will prevent us from doing so and destroy our livelihood.

  • Most of us want the freedom to make health decisions that we deem wise for ourselves and our loved ones.

  • Most of us don’t want to live in a police state.

  • Most of us want to ensure that this state’s borders and laws remain integral to the protection of our rights.

  • All of us want to be able to think and speak freely.

  • All of us want an assurance of due process.

  • None of us wants to be falsely accused or wrongly imprisoned.

  • None of us wants government or corporations to rob what belongs to us.

  • None of us wants to experience discrimination, based on our color or faith.

These are a mere handful of the significant concerns facing all of us as Wisconsinites today. Such common ground unites us. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin will inevitably be called to consider cases rooted in such matters.


What do we want?


Will we choose Janet Protasiewicz, whose standard, by her own acknowledgement, will be infused with her own subjective preferences—and possibly the views of her big donors?

Or will we instead choose Daniel Kelly, who promises to follow the rule of law and our Federal and State Constitutions to the best of his ability—and whose record provides evidence to back up that promise on an array of issues?

As for me, I’m voting for Dan Kelly. There is just too much at stake.

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