Hillary Clinton in Madison "Courts Matter"

MADISON -- Hillary Clinton came to campaign for votes in Madison, Wisconsin today, a city that most here put in the Bernie Sanders column. But, Clinton made it clear she loves Madison and the University of Wisconsin and wants to compete for every vote.

In a small venue on the UW campus, Clinton brought the message that the courts are important to democracy and that Wisconsin voters should study up on the growing fight over the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

"The court shapes every aspect of life in the United States," said Clinton. "If we are serious about fighting for progressive causes, we need to focus on the courts."

After Scalia's death, in an unprecedented move, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell threw down the gauntlet and announced that he would block any Obama nominee. On March 16, Obama named Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But, Clinton points out, Senate leadership, including Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley, says that the issue should be postponed until a new president is elected so the "voice of the voters can be heard."

"Well, as one of the 65 million who voted for Barack Obama, I'd say my voice is being ignored right now. We chose a President. We chose him twice! And now the Republicans are acting like our votes didn't count," said Clinton to applause.

She also asked Wisconsinites to contact U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, "by phone, email, or Facebook" and tell him to do his job and take action on a court nominee. After first saying he was open to meeting with Garland, Johnson, who is a tight race with U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, backtracked, tweeting "In just 8 months, the American people will decide [the] direction of the country. Give them a voice on the direction of court," a talking point borrowed from the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network.

Deep Dive Into the Importance of the Supreme Court

Clinton's speech was thoughtful and revealing and remarkable for its deep dive into the seminal legal cases of our times, such as the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right to privacy in a case involving banned contraceptives.

"Before I was a Senator, or a wife, or a mother, I was a lawyer," said Clinton. "I was drawn to the law for the same reason a lot of people are, because of my faith in justice and fairness."

Clinton reminded the audience of the many important issues currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, including cases involving labor rights, immigrant rights, voting rights, and reproductive rights.

The fate of public sector unions nationwide could be decided in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. United States v. Texas is an effort to overturn Obama's decision to defer deportation for 5 million undocumented immigrants. Evenwel v. Abbott is a voting rights case on who should be counted when creating legislative districts. Two cases currently before the court deal with reproductive rights.

Indeed the day after Clinton's speech her point was affirmed as the court blocked the union-busting Friederichs case 4-4. CMD had reported on the right-wing funders and institutions behind the case last year.

Clinton asked the crowd to "make sure the Supreme Court factors into your decision on April 5. Consider, what kind of justice would President Trump appoint? He wants to round up 11 million immigrants and kick them out, what would that mean for a nation built by immigrants?"

Clinton's speech to invited students and supporters at Gordon Commons on the UW Madison campus came two days after Bernie Sanders rallied an estimated 8,000 in Madison during Easter weekend. The Clinton campaign decided not to compete on the basis of numbers, but on the basis of ideas.

The final questioner at the end of Clinton's hour and a half tutorial garnered the most applause. "I want to thank you for being the most knowledgeable and experienced candidate."

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Rep. Dana Wachs, from Eau Claire in Western Wisconsin, is an attorney and ranking member of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. He was delighted that Clinton decided to highlight the importance of the courts.

Wachs told CMD he found it "very disturbing how the Senate was rebuffing the president, refusing to even hold a hearing on his nominee." He has heard about the issue from his constituents who wonder why the Senate isn't living up to its responsibility.

Christine Bremer Muggli, an attorney from the Wausau region of Wisconsin, agreed. "People in Wisconsin show up for work to do their jobs, they expect their elected leaders to do the same."

Audience Full of Enthusiastic Supporters

For many in the audience that CMD spoke to, a key issue was access to health care and reproductive rights.

Eliana Lock, a UW freshman from Baltimore, told CMD that the U.S. had a long way to go when it came to women's rights. "Clinton is making women's issues public health issues, and making that a big priority of her campaign," she said.

"Women aren't able to spend time with their kids in America, they need access to paid family leave. The fact that almost every other country does this shows that we can too," she added.

"Hillary has been talking about women's health and reproductive rights her entire career, not just when she is running for president. I feel lucky to be able to vote for an amazing and powerful leader," said Nicole Safar, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's policy director.

Just this year, the Wisconsin legislature blocked Planned Parenthood's access to two streams of federal funding that are used exclusively for contraceptives. This is after Governor Walker cut all state funding for Planned Parenthood in 2011, shutting down five health care centers in the state, and also passing into law one of the most restrictive abortion laws, limiting access to abortion to 20 weeks.

Asked about how Clinton would handle her opponents in the race, Safar said: "Donald Trump would give her the perfect opportunity to highlight what it means to be a strong female leader. Hillary versus a misogynist, that will be quite a dichotomy."

Compared to other states, Donald Trump has under-polled in Wisconsin since the beginning of the race. Wisconsin's far-right GOP has failed to rally around a specific candidate, although Walker endorsed Cruz today citing the fact that he and Cruz are both "preachers' sons."

Natalie Holbrooks, a University of Wisconsin sophomore from Milwaukee, was just plain excited to see Clinton. "I have been looking forward to this for a long time. I was with her in 2008, and we had a bit of a delay, but for me she is by far the most qualified candidate. When you look at the fact that we have the least productive Congress in years, I think that she will be able to navigate that better than the other candidates," said Holbrooks.

Wisconsin Rep. Dianne Hesselbein said she wanted all the presidential candidates campaigning in the state to explain what they were going to do to help reverse the damage done by Governor Walker. "There are still thousands of people without access to Medicare because of the cuts he made. What can we do as a state to fix that situation and how are the candidates going to help us?"

After her talk, Clinton walked down State Street with Madison Alder Mike Verveer and popped into a little shop called Anthology, a beloved Wisconsin institution and craft shop owned by two sisters, Sachi and Laura Komai. Today Clinton will continue her push for the Badger State with stops in Milwaukee, LaCrosse, and Green Bay.

See her full speech on the Wisconsin Eye.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Deputy Director of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation in 2011 and is a recipient of the Hillman Prize for investigative journalism.


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