By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
We usually have to wait for judicial candidates to be seated on the bench before we know how they’ll rule. Not so with Vince Megna.
Megna is a Milwaukee attorney and the self-proclaimed “King of the Lemon Lawyers.” He made himself a minor celebrity through a series of videos attacking Gov. Scott Walker and announcing his intentions last month to challenge Wisconsin state Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack, who is seeking another 10-year term on the high court in next spring’s elections.
On one level, such bluntness is refreshing. On the other, such a proclamation makes Megna a potential living embodiment of the phrase “legislating from the bench.”
“I’ve personally gathered over 150 signatures at this time as I work to get on the ballot, but I have had over 250 people ask me ‘Are you a liberal? Are you a conservative? Are you a Democrat or Republican?’,” Megna said.
“That’s the first thing people who don’t know me ask about my candidacy. My intention is to be honest with them. I’m not going to lie to people.”
Megna said the bench already is partisan. As evidence, he points out that, as a campaign manager, Roggensack has hired Brandon Scholz, a former executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party.
But more worrisome in Megna’s statement is the suggestion that he already knows how he’d vote on the state’s Voter ID law, now mired in litigation after two Dane County Circuit Court rulings declared it unconstitutional.
Like any citizen, Megna is entitled to his opinion. But as a justice he would have to decide on the merits of the law, not on his personal opinions.
I’m not alone in seeing that as problematic. When others asked if he might have to recuse himself on such cases after his statement, Megna said defensively, “Each individual justice makes that decision and I will not be stifled.” He further defended himself by bringing up recent recusal issues regarding members of the state’s conservative bloc in which liberal activists have tried for years to get various justices off of cases they feared losing.
Some legal experts say Megna’s comments are walking a fine line.
Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said Megna is right: each justice does make that decision regarding recusal. But the matter goes well beyond that.
“The question regarding Megna’s comments about voter ID is will he show willingness to persuasion under arguments made before the court? If he doesn’t — and maintains his biases — then recusal should be highly considered,” Eisenberg said.
While Megna’s candor is refreshing, he may be better off running for the state Legislature instead of the state’s highest court. He sounds more like someone who would be better off trying to craft law, not decide cases based on it.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org