I have flipped back and forth on this issue. I have defended the right to elect our justices instead of appointing them, so we don't end up penalizing voters for electing partisan justices. I've changed my mind again, for the last time. After watching the documentary "Hot Coffee," where they lay out the big business plan to buy corporate justices, how could you not see the writing on the wall.
WUWM: One measure lawmakers may debate would let voters decide whether to eliminate state Supreme Court elections, and instead have justices appointed to the bench.
WUWM’s Ann-Elise Henzl: The race between justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg was the latest to result in “a huge amount of money, a considerable amount of partisanship, and a fair amount of vitriol,” according to Marquette University Law School professor Peter Rofes.
While both candidates agreed to limit their spending in exchange for public financing, Gov. Scott Walker eliminated that option for future races, this summer. And special interest groups continued to pour in big bucks, as they have in the last few years. Rofes’ colleague and former justice Janine Geske agrees the result has been ugly.
“There are special interest groups now putting seven figures of money – many of them from out of state -- into these campaigns. In my view, (they are) manufacturing issues that sometimes are not relevant. And they’ve become very angry, very vicious, and I think it’s causing divisiveness in the race and ultimately at the court,” Geske says.
The watchdog organization Common Cause’s Executive Director Jay Heck says “What was more important to people was who had the proper judicial temperament, who had the qualifications, what did the bar association say about the qualifications, and who was going to do the best job of being impartial,” Heck says.
Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville will propose this fall that voters decide whether justices should be appointed, rather than elected. Cullen says a panel comprised of retired judges, attorneys, or even citizens, would consider applications and then narrow the list to, say, the five most qualified finalists.
“The governor would have to choose from those five, and then that person that the governor chose off that list would have to be confirmed by the state Senate,” Cullen says.
More than 30 states appoint justices through some kind of merit system. Yet Marquette’s Peter Rofes says experience has shown that politics is not necessarily removed.
There would likely even be a partisan battle in determining which system Wisconsin should use, according to former justice Janine Geske. “What’s going to happen, I would predict, is that it’s going to be a partisan response. And so the Republicans are going to see that this is a response to keeping out conservative justices,” Geske says.
The plan, however, does have at least some bipartisan support. Democratic Sen. Cullen’s co-sponsor is a Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz. Even so, UW-Green Bay political scientist Tim Dale predicts an uphill climb. “If there’s going to be one challenge that’s going to have to be overcome … we really do like electing our officials,” Dale says.