Friday, February 15, 2008

No Other Way To Fix High Court?

The Wisconsin State Journal has started something of a crusade to stop electing state Supreme Court justices and have them appointed instead. A guest commentary the State Journal published this morning echoing the paper's editorial position says the way judges are currently picked is becoming "increasingly dysfunctional" and "destructive of judicial independence and public confidence in the courts." No disagreement so far.

But then the column's author astounds with his conclusion that "(m)erit selection of judges is the only way to repair these problems."

The only way?

The first state Supreme Court election was held in Wisconsin in 1852 and for over 150 years elections produced a high court that enjoyed the citizenry's trust. It was not until last April's election that the public's confidence was profoundly shaken.

Given this history, why would anyone conclude that the "only way" to fix what's gone wrong with our system is to do away with elections? With all due respect to the State Journal's guest columnist, there is another way. Instead of taking away the vote, we could repair what's gone wrong with our judicial elections and restore them to good working order so they once again serve the state the way they did for a century and a half.

Appointing judges under a system like merit selection has its virtues but also conspicuous drawbacks, not the least of which is its elitist premise. And there is both good and bad that comes with electing judges. Wisconsin got a heavy dose of the bad in last year's election.

What the choice between appointing and electing judges comes down to is whether or not Wisconsin will continue to place its faith in its citizens to pick good judges to serve on our state's highest court, as we have for over 150 years.

I say let the people decide. But state Supreme Court elections are being corrupted. They're being taken over by powerful special interests and party bosses. They need to be reformed in a way that gives them back to the people.

All seven current members of the Supreme Court – from the most conservative justice to the most liberal – recently signed a letter calling for publicly financed judicial campaigns. This is incredibly significant. Our Supreme Court is not unanimous about much of anything. But the justices are unanimous about this. They support elections for the high court, but they want those elections cleaned up.

The public agrees. Polling done in Wisconsin by a leading Republican opinion research firm for the national Justice at Stake Campaign showed that 65 percent of state residents support publicly financed Supreme Court elections. When given arguments both for and against such reform, support for it went up to 75 percent.


Anonymous said...

Public financing of campaigns does not solve the basic problem of controlling public expenditures outside the campaign of each candidate. There is nothing to stop independent expenditures. They are allowed as a mattekr free speech, says the U.S. Supreme Court. Unless special interest money can be controlled, public financing only allows the public to believe the problem is solved. It is not. Millions of dollars can be (and will be)spent on a favored candidate, and nobody can do anything about it.

Justice William Bablitch, ret.

Mike McCabe said...

Actually, the Impartial Justice bill (SB 171) does do something about so-called independent expenditures by interest groups. It provides participating candidates with additional public financing up to three times the amount of the basic public financing benefit to enable candidates to respond to interest group-sponsored advertising.

Such a reform would be even more effective if accompanied by legislation like Senate Bill 463, which requires full disclosure of special interest electioneering and prohibits the use of corporate funds to pay for election advertising. Groups could only use corporate funds if they were engaging in grassroots lobbying and did not aim to influence the outcome of an election.

Anonymous said...

Appointed judges buy there job from the governor. US Senator Feingold told me. You think local circuit court judges are corupt you should see federal judges that are appointed for life . They have to answer to know one. Once a judge is appointed it is lawyer suiside to run against an incumbent judge.
Appointing Kings or Judges who ever is the highest bidder to the governor is as anti American as you can get.