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Michael Gableman

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Michael Gableman
Court Information:
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Title:   Justice
Salary:  $146,000
Selection:   Elected
Active:   2008 - 2018
Past post:   Burnett County Circuit Court
Past term:   2002 - 2008
Past position:   Judge
Personal History
Party:   Republican
Undergraduate:   Ripon College, 1988
Law School:   Hamline University School of Law, 1993

Michael Gableman is an associate justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was elected to this office on April 1, 2008, for a ten-year term that expires in 2018.[1]


Gableman received his B.A. degree in education and history from Ripon College in 1988 and his J.D. from Hamline University School of Law in 1993.[2]


After graduating from law school, Gableman was a law clerk in Douglas County, Minnesota for two years and then in Brown County, Wisconsin for one year. In 1996, he became an assistant district attorney in Langlade County. One year later, he became a prosecutor in Marathon County. He stayed in that position for two years, until he became the district attorney for Ashland County. In 2002, Gableman was appointed to the Burnett County Circuit Court. He served there until his election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2008.[1][2]

Awards and associations

  • Member, Fraternal Order of Moose
  • Past Grand Knight, Ashland Council, Knights of Columbus Masons
  • Member, Rotary International[2]



Gableman won election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2008, defeating incumbent Louis Butler with 51.19% of the vote.[3]

Candidate IncumbentElection %
Michael Gableman ApprovedA No51.1%
Louis Butler Yes48.5%


In the news

Judicial commission complaint (2008)

On October 7, 2008, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed a complaint against Justice Gableman over an advertisement used during his 2008 campaign against Justice Louis Butler.[5] On November 19, 2008, Justice Gableman issued a response to the complaint, stating that his first amendment rights were violated and that campaign advertising should be considered free speech.[6]

The Ad

The television advertisement in question referred to a case that Butler worked on when he was a public defender. Butler represented Reuben Lee Mitchell from 1985 to 1988 in State v. Reuben Lee Mitchell. That case was Mitchell’s appeal of his conviction in circuit court for molesting an 11 year-old girl.[5]

The abridged audio text of the ad was as follows:

...Louis Butler worked to put criminals on the street. Like Reuben Lee Mitchell who raped an 11-year-old girl with learning disabilities. Butler found a loophole. Mitchell went on to molest another child.

Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler on the Supreme Court?[5][7]

The section of the ad in question was, "Butler found a loophole. Mitchell went on to molest another child."[5] The second molestation was not, as some thought the ad implied, a direct consequence of Butler's loophole. Butler successfully argued before an appellate panel that the trial court improperly admitted certain evidence, such as the age of the girl, which likely prejudiced the jury. The panel ordered a new trial, but the supreme court reversed, holding that the error did not affect the trial's fairness. Mitchell remained in prison until he was released on parole in 1992. Three years later, Mitchell went on to rape another child.[5]

The judicial commission said Gableman's ad "does extreme violence to the public's confidence in the integrity of Wisconsin's judicial system."[5] The filing also mentioned: "The false statement of fact in the advertisement is that Louis Butler was in some way responsible for the release from prison of Reuben Lee Mitchell and for Mitchell's subsequent crime. It is accomplished by the conflation of four sentences into one lie."[8]

On July 8, 2009, attorneys representing Justice Gableman said that the complaint filed against their client was considered a "form of harassment and punishment by the state".[5][8]

The judicial commission requested that Gableman's colleagues on the court discipline him on the claim that the ad intentionally misled voters about Louis Butler.

Judicial panel decision

A judicial conduct panel was designated to hear the case under Wisconsin Statute § 757.87(3). The three-judge panel, comprised of lower court judges, was united in its ruling that the complaint be dismissed. Two judges on the panel agreed that the ad was misleading but did not contain outright lies. The other judge believed the ad contained a lie, but that First Amendment rights protected the speech from regulation.[9] The panel stated:

By its own words, the complaint relies on an implicit message which the commission contends was false or, at best, misleading...However, because the individual statements in the advertisement were true, any false or misleading implied message of the advertisement necessarily falls within the reach of the (rule on misleading statements), for which discipline may not be imposed.[9][7]


Though the three judge panel recommended the case be dropped, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard a case against their colleague regarding the negative ad. The justices were deadlocked, three to three. Justices Shirley Abrahamson, N. Patrick Crooks and Ann Walsh Bradley concluded that Gableman lied about his opponent, Louis Butler. The other three justices, David T. Prosser, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler agreed with the Judicial Conduct Panel that the case be dismissed.[10] Because the burden of proof fell on the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, no action was taken against Gableman.[11][12]

Political ideology

See also: Political ideology of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan ideology of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 are more liberal. Gableman received a Campaign finance score (CFscore) of 1.35, indicating a conservative ideological leaning. This is more conservative than the average CF score of 0.42 that justices received in Wisconsin. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice, but an academic gauge of various factors.[13]

See also

External links


WisconsinWisconsin Supreme CourtWisconsin Court of AppealsWisconsin Circuit CourtsWisconsin Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of WisconsinUnited States District Court for the Western District of WisconsinUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of WisconsinUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of WisconsinUnited States Court of Appeals for the Seventh CircuitWisconsin countiesWisconsin judicial newsWisconsin judicial electionsJudicial selection in WisconsinWisconsinTemplate.jpg