While two of the candidates attended prestigious schools in our state, two others got their law degrees from a school still run by a TV preacher who said past disasters happened because God is punishing America over abortion.
When deciding who should be the next justice to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, voters could examine the candidates’ professional experiences, their statements, even the sources of financial support for their campaigns. They might also want to consider where each of the four jurists received their legal education.
While the two progressive candidates stayed in the Badger State for law school, the two conservatives received their law degrees from a school founded—and still controlled—by the controversial television preacher and failed presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
Regent University was originally called Christian Broadcasting Network University when the televangelist started it in 1977. The name was changed to Regent in 1990 and the school catalog says “a regent is one who represents Christ, our Sovereign, in whatever sphere of life he or she may be called to serve Him.” The school motto at Regent is “Christian Leadership to Change the World.”
In the past, Robertson has said disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina may have been sent by God to punish the United States for protecting women’s abortion rights. Robertson said Haiti’s earthquakes might have been punishment for devil worship 200 years ago. He has called Islam less a religion than a political system. Buddhism, in his view, is a “disease.” And Robertson has repeatedly advanced anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about a worldwide Jewish plot to control world finance.
Former Justice Dan Kelly received his law degree from Regent in 1991. Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow attained her degree there in 1996.
“The fact that they both went to Regent University is a little bit of a peculiar coincidence to me, quite frankly,” said Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who got her law degree from the Marquette University Law School. “That you would have two people who went to this particular university. I don’t know why someone would choose to go there unless you have views that really align with the views [of] Pat Robertson. So obviously, the fact that the two of them went to Regent University raises some red flags for me.”
Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell said he is more concerned with what people do with the education they get at whatever law school they attend. For example, while conservatives often argue that laws can only be interpreted based on the time in which they were written, Mitchell said his education at the University of Wisconsin Law School showed him how courts can put laws to use for those of us living in the present day.
There might be a lot of considerations that they went to a particular law school and it shaped their conservative views. But the reality is what they have chosen to do on the bench,” Mitchell said. “I think my education at UW shaped me because the theme of UW is ‘Law in Action.’ How do you put the law in action so it can work for people? Most of us who gravitated to it at school are always looking to figure out different ways that the law can be put into practical use and have practical implications for Wisconsinites.”
On February 21, Wisconsin voters will narrow the field of four candidates for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Voters can choose one candidate on the ballot, and the top two vote-getters will face off in the general election in April.