What would be your primary concerns for “the state of the state”?
I first ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013, pledging to restore integrity to a Court beset by infighting and allegations of personal assault. Many voters agreed with me, and I received over 360,000 votes. Since then, partisan political fighting among the Justices has gotten worse, and judicial election campaigns for the Supreme Court now regularly descend into unfounded character attacks on the integrity of candidates. This needs to stop. So last March I became the very first candidate to announce that I was running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2020.
I am running because the Justices serving on our Wisconsin Supreme Court reflect too narrow a set of legal experiences and too narrow a set of life experiences to truly represent all the people of Wisconsin. With the retirement of Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the Court lost the perspective of a law professor who was a strong advocate for holding the political branches of our government accountable to the voters. In the ten years since Justice Louis Butler left the bench, the Court has lacked a member who has substantial experience as a criminal defense attorney. Significantly, the Court currently does not any member who has focused on serving persons of modest means – such as working families and immigrants. And there are currently no racial or ethnic minorities represented on our Court.
A Court that openly engages in partisan political infighting is not serving the people of Wisconsin. We need to return to an independent Court, and we need our elections to focus on the qualifications of the candidates and not attack ads. And we won’t make the Supreme Court better by electing more Justices with the same narrow experience – trial judges who are former prosecutors. The work of the Wisconsin Supreme Court extends far beyond the criminal law.
Every term, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides important cases involving our constitutional rights, the protection of the environment, the civil rights of racial and ethnic minorities, business law, and contract interpretation. The Court works better when it has a variety of types of Justices who bring experiences across a wider cross-section of legal practice. As a Constitutional Law professor, an experienced criminal defense lawyer, someone who has represented giant Fortune 100 corporations as well as the owners of small family businesses, and a community leader who has helped working families and immigrants navigate our legal system, I will bring a broad base of knowledge to our state’s highest court. In addition, I will be the first Latino Justice in our State’s history. And I pledge to continue my fight to end the politicization of the Court and restore its former independence.
What in your past work or which specific case(s) contributed most to the kind of Judge you would be?
In addition to being a tenured law professor at Marquette University Law School for over a quarter century, I have led numerous nonprofit organizations that seek to improve access to justice for people of modest means and organizations working to protect the civil rights of immigrant families. My commitment to working families and the immigrant community comes from my own upbringing as the child of a father who was a public school teacher and a mother who immigrated from Mexico.
Please list any political or relevant professional groups of which you are or have been a member. In a brief, 4-5 word phrase, please describe what about each of those groups appealed to you, and why you particularly chose to work with or join them.
I served as President of the Latino Community Center, which was nationally recognized for its anti-violence initiatives for at-risk youth in Milwaukee. As President of Centro Legal, I led a nonprofit legal services organization that made lawyers affordable to middle class families who would otherwise go to the courthouse alone. While a Trustee at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I helped to establish a Legal Services for Immigrants program that helps immigrant families facing deportation. As President of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association, I led the organization in opposing English-Only laws. And as a Board Member of Voces de la Frontera Action, I served an organization focused on supporting public education, jobs that pay a living wage, and the civil rights of immigrants in our society.
I have also served as a volunteer mentor for Latina women professionals through a program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and have advocated on behalf of DREAMER students within the Marquette University administration. This is how I have chosen to give back to my community over the course of my legal career.
Fellow, the Wisconsin Bar Foundation – members recognized for leadership in Wisconsin Bar (2016 – present)
The American Constitution Society, Milwaukee Chapter, Board Member – law should improve the lives of all (2016-2018)
Voces de la Frontera Action, Board Member – advocate for immigrant civil rights (2015-2018)
Wisconsin Stem Cell Now, President and Board Member – defends medical research from politics (2005-2018)
Wisconsin State Bar, Business Law Section, Board Member – liaison with State legislature on business law (2009-2015)
Supreme Court Nomination Task Force, Member – advised Senator Herb Kohl on nominees (various years 1993-2010)
Wisconsin State Bar, USA Committee, Reporter – helped write Wisconsin Uniform Securities Act (2002-2008)
Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Board Member – funder of legal services for poor (2001-2005)
Catholic Charities Legal Services for Immigrants, Chair – provides affordable lawyers in immigration cases (2000-2005)
Latino Community Center, President and Board Member – intervened with at-risk youth (2000-2003)
Wisconsin State Bar, International Practice Section, Board Member – provides professional development for lawyers (1997-2000)
Centro Legal, President and Board Member – provides affordable lawyers in family and misdemeanor cases (1993-1999)
Wisconsin State Bar, Legal Education Commission, Member – advised on law school education in Wisconsin (1994-1996)
Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association, President, Board Member & Member – professional organization for Latino lawyers (1992- present)
Hispanic National Bar Association, Member – national organization for Latino lawyers (1993 – present)
What professional experience and/or point of view do you have that makes you the best choice for the WI Supreme Court?
I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have been a Constitutional Law professor for almost three decades, training future judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers how to read and interpret the law. My expertise on constitutional law has been recognized by prominent elected officials. I advised Senator Herb Kohl on four United States Supreme Court nominations (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). In addition, when the Merrick Garland nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was blocked by the Senate, the Obama White House asked me to speak out against the obstruction at a nationwide press conference.
Before joining the faculty at Marquette University Law School, I worked at a national law firm that counted Martin Ginsburg (Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s late husband) and Sargent Shriver (brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy) among its partners. I defended clients during “Operation Ill Wind,” which to this day remains the largest FBI investigation into corruption by military officials and defense contractors in United States history. The investigation resulted in a total of $622 million worth of fines, recoveries, restitutions, and forfeitures. I also handled pretrial and appellate representation in a $350 million civil securities fraud and breach of contract lawsuit. These two high profile cases, as well as experience in other similar cases, led Marquette University Law School to hire me as a law professor at only 28 years of age. My experience practicing law at the highest level is what makes me an effective teacher in the classroom.
The American Bar Association limits the number of hours a full-time law professor can devote to outside legal work. Within these limits, I have continued to practice law as an expert witness in multiple high-profile civil lawsuits., and have represented minority shareholders in business lawsuits. One case set a new precedent under Wisconsin corporate law. I also have represented clients as Of Counsel at one of the largest minority-owned law firms in the country.
Because of my legal knowledge, I have been invited to speak on topics of constitutional law, federal law and Wisconsin law by many organizations including the American Constitution Society, the Federalist Society, the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the League of Women Voters as well as numerous universities and law schools. I have been quoted by national news sources including as The Guardian Newspaper, NBC News, and Wisconsin media.
No other candidate can boast of this range of achievements.
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