Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A Plan Fit To Be Damned

Today the Wisconsin State Journal endorsed a one-term limit for state Supreme Court despite having this to say about the proposal floated recently by the state bar association: "Voters would lose influence.... They would no longer be able to vote out justices for making unpopular decisions.... Candidates for state Supreme Court would still have to shill for votes and campaign donations to get through an initial election. Moreover, special interest groups might increase their spending on high court campaigns, knowing they'll have fewer opportunities to affect the makeup of the court."

Talk about damning an idea with faint praise. Hell, that isn't even praise. And it ain't faint.

Never mind that 16 years has to be the longest term ever imagined for an elective office. And never mind the term limit would get rid of truly exceptional justices as well as really bad ones.

Wisconsin has been electing Supreme Court justices for well over 150 years. Those elections served our state well for a century and a half. Our high court was known as one of the nation's finest. It wasn't until Supreme Court elections became auctions starting in 2007 that the court ran into trouble and public confidence in the performance and behavior of justices plummeted.

A single 16-year term does not address any of the root causes of the citizenry's loss of faith in Wisconsin's Supreme Court. It does nothing about money in elections, special interest influence, partisanship and ideological polarization on the court, or the conflicts of interest when justices rule on cases involving their biggest campaign supporters.

Before the bar association's proposal could be implemented, the state constitution would first have to be amended. That requires approval by two successive legislatures and then ratification by voters in a statewide election. That's an awful lot of time and trouble for a reform plan that steers clear of the core problems plaguing the court.