One-on-One: Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Jennifer Dorow
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In just five days, voters statewide will head to the polls to select two candidates who will move forward in the state Supreme Court race.
Jennifer Dorow has been a Waukesha County judge since being appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 and recently presided over the Waukesha Co. Christmas Parade attack case, which resulted in the conviction of Darrell Brooks.
Watch an extended interview with Jennifer Dorow:
Leigh Mills: Judge Dorow, thank you for joining us. Let’s start with a question about your background and your priorities. What do you want voters to know about you and your priorities if elected to the bench?
Judge Jennifer Dorow: I’d like the voters of Wisconsin to know that I am a judge and a jurist who is committed to upholding the rule of law, who has an unwavering commitment to be fair and impartial and someone who brings more judicial experience to this race than any other candidate... having served now eleven years on the trial court bench. I’ve been a chief judge for going on six years now, and I’ve been chief of the chief judges, so that means I’ve been appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to address some administrative issues among the trial courts. I have more law enforcement support than any other candidate. I have over 100 bipartisan sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors -- it’s actually more than four times the three other candidates combined. My priority in this race and what I would do on the Supreme Court to ensure that there is fairness and impartiality. I will be a justice that will never prejudge any aspect of a case. I will take every case that comes before the court, I will listen to the arguments that are made, I will study the briefs, study the law, do my own research and then every single decision, I will let the law guide the decision I make. And that’s every decision, every time.
LM: You mentioned this seat is nonpartisan, and I’ve asked all the candidates this question because the seat will determine the ideological makeup of the Court and set the balance of power between conservative and liberal justices, and many political observers have suggested that the Supreme Court has been drawn into the political fray. Do you believe that is the new reality?
JD: I think it’s incredibly important that the Supreme Court and every justice who serves on the Supreme Court take their oath to the Constitution seriously, both the U.S. and the state Constitution, and always uphold our ethical responsibility to be fair and impartial. When we think about the symbol for the justice system, Lady Justice with a blindfold and evenly balanced scale. There are candidates who call themselves liberal or progressive, who frankly want to rip that blindfold off, put their thumb on the scale and make decisions based on a political agenda and not what the law is. I don’t believe politics has a place on the Supreme Court or in any court room. I’m not running to make laws -- that’s the job of the legislature. I’m running to decide legal issues and to make sure that fairness and impartiality are the norm. And I think that’s so very important to the people of Wisconsin. They want to be able to trust in the justice system, and I’ve been able to do that over the 11 years that I’ve been on the bench, faithfully and fairly applying the law as written to the facts of the cases that come before me.
LM: And so I saw it in your first TV ad that you did use the word conservative at the end of that ad. Why put that on there?
JD: That’s a way to tell voters about my judicial philosophy that really, if I believe in interpreting the law as written and not legislating from the bench. Words have meaning. We use words in everyday life, and when we use them, we expect that they’ll be given the meaning that we have when we use them and not some meaning later on that didn’t even exist at the time that we used them. And I think the statutes and the Constitution should be interpreted the same way, because that leads to reliability, predictability and stability, or what we call the rule of law. So that’s just a way for me to tell the people of Wisconsin where I stand on those issues.
LM: And there are a number of important issues that will likely come forward during these next couple of years in front of the Supreme Court. One of them, of course, abortion. Do you believe that the 1849
abortion ban should be overturned? Upheld? Do you think it’s outdated? Where do you fall on this important issue to Wisconsin voters?
JD: You know, one of the things that all judges and candidates for a judge position, including justice of the Supreme Court, we need to be very careful that we don’t comment on pending litigation or even discuss our personal views. And the reason for that is we don’t want to be seen as prejudging any issue. Especially when there’s a case that’s pending on that very issue, I don’t want voters to ever think that the cases that come before me aren’t important by forecasting how I would vote on a particular issue before the case has even really begun. You know, the law matters, the facts matter, and what I pledge to the people of Wisconsin is to always do just that, to look at what the law says, to consider the challenges that are being made in that particular case, of course, do all the research necessary and then make a decision. On the abortion issue, you know, I’m a mom and I’m a mom of a daughter, and I understand how incredibly important this issue is, for women especially, and I’ve made no secret that I’m also a person of faith. And when I think of women who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, I believe it’s our responsibility to care and love for these women. But when it comes to making a decision on the court, my personal values, my personal preferences are not what will guide any decision I will make. I wear a robe for a reason, and that’s because the robe not only demonstrates the authority that we’ve been given, but it also shields my personal preferences from the decision that I make. It’s an outward expression to the people who appear in front of me, and I will be fair, and I will be unbiased. And so the promise I made to the people of the state of Wisconsin is to do just that. Let the law guide every decision I make, irrespective of the personal views or how I think or want that law to be. It’s what the law is that will guide the decision that I make.
LM: How has serving as a Waukesha County judge, you mentioned this a little bit in my first question, but to be direct, how has that specifically prepared you for the state Supreme Court?
JD: During my 11 years on the bench, I have had almost 16,000 cases assigned to me across family, civil and criminal cases. And that’s 16,000 different litigants appearing before me. You see, the people that come before me, they’re not just a name on a piece of paper. I understand how the decisions that I make affect the litigants. I understand that sometimes there’s a party that leaves the courtroom happy with the decision I’ve made, but there’s another party who might not be happy with the decisions that I’ve made. And so there’s that perspective and it’s not just for the litigants. I have this commitment to being fair and impartial and I’ve been able to do that over my 11 years on the bench. People who come before me know that I’m well prepared, that I will keep an open mind and I will let the law guide every decision that I make. And they know that I’m committed to fairness because frankly, they’ve seen me in a very unique way. When I presided over the Waukesha Christmas parade attack trials, where in some very unusual and at times challenging circumstances, I was committed to fairness, firmness, order and justice, and that was for the accused and also to ensure that the rights of the victims were protected during that case as well. And I think when people look at that, what I hope that they see is that commitment that I have to fairness and impartiality, because that’s what I’ve been doing for 11 years, whether there’s a million people watching me or there’s just a couple of people in the courtroom. I’ve also been a chief judge, and that’s a unique set of experiences unlike any other candidate. Having now served, I’m in my 6th year doing that... It’s a direct appointment from the Wisconsin Supreme Court selected in 2017, 2019 and 2021. And so I understand that that’s the key leadership position and I’ll take that to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And again, if the depth and breadth of experience that no other candidate has.
LM: And that Brooks trial, of course, gained national attention. We covered it extensively here in Madison. So many of our viewers will see you as a familiar face even though you’re not, you know, here in our specific viewing area. Did that experience inform your decision in any way to run for the Supreme Court to take this next step?
JD: You know, I consider the fact that this is an open seat. Justice Roggensack is retiring after serving on the court for 20 years. I looked at kind of what was leading up to this spring election and some of the talking points or coverage already really laying out for the voters how important this election is. I considered my experience, including my judicial experience. And I said this is the time for me to run. I’m doing this for the people of the state of Wisconsin. I didn’t want to sit back and do nothing, given what’s at stake in this election.
LM: On your campaign page, you highlight support you’ve received from law enforcement. You mentioned that at the beginning of this interview as well, and now especially in this viewing area, because I’ve seen it run on our channel, there’s this new TV ad that accuses you of letting criminals off the hook. How do you respond to those new attack ads that are running against you?
JD: Well, I hope the viewers understand that those are negative attack ads from outside money. Those are people that are painting a misleading picture of me. I mentioned I’ve had almost 16,000 cases. They’re looking at 4 cases out of context without providing all of the information. Your viewers can find out more about those cases by going to judgejennifer.com. There’s a fact sheet on our website to explain those cases, but I think it’s very clear who the front runner is, and why other people are outside interests who have an interest in this campaign and the race. I think that’s why they’re doing that. I know that’s why they’re doing that. They know I’m a strong candidate who has an unwavering commitment to be fair and impartial, who’s been very tough, but firm, with the court cases that I’ve had in Waukesha County over my 11 years.
LM: Is there anything else you would like to add that you feel we haven’t covered that would be important for our viewers to know about you?
JD: I would hope your viewers look at the records of all four candidates, take a look at my service on the bench, my dedication to public service, my commitment to fairness and impartiality. I’ll remind them I’m not running for the legislature, I’m running to be on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. There are two other candidates, one from Milwaukee, one from Dane, who are openly campaigning with a political agenda seeking to transform our state not through legislation, but by a vote of four to three on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If that happens, then our legislative bodies and our process that the Constitution set up really will have no meaning. The 132 people in our Assembly and Senate won’t be doing or won’t be able to do their jobs because you’ll have a court by a vote of four to three that will decide what the law should be rather than what the law is. And so, when I think about this election, it’s really about the role of the court and what we expect from our justices and the court system in general. I will be Lady Justice with a blindfold on and evenly balanced scales, giving everyone a fair shot and letting the law guide every decision that I make. And that’s every decision every time.
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