Gavel Grab

Editorial: Coming Again Soon, Wisconsin Court Election ‘Mud Pit’

When Justice Patricia Roggensack stands for reelection to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April, the contest will be decided not by judicial experience, nor temperament, nor independence, a Wisconsin State Journal editorial suggests.

Rather, given the lineup of potential challengers and the state’s political climate, the election will be a referendum on Act 10, Wisconsin’s law that restricted collective bargaining for many public employees, the editorial says. The law  was challenged, and it ultimately was upheld by the court’s conservative majority, including Justice Roggensack. The editorial condemns the “mud pit” that it says Wisconsin court elections have turned into, and the resulting impact on public trust:

“It would be nice to think that state Supreme Court elections could be honorable affairs. After all, judges — unlike lawmakers and governors — are supposed to be nonpartisan and impartial. They’re supposed to rule on the law, not represent constituents.

“Yet Wisconsin’s system of selecting justices by popular vote has devolved into a mud pit of accusations and special-interest money, which tars even the winning candidate. Trust in the high court falls as conflicts of interest rise. The same lawyers and groups that spend millions to help elect justices subsequently come before those same men and women in black robes seeking legal decisions.”

The editorial is entitled, “Another ugly high court election.” It warns, “Judicial elections have turned Wisconsin’s best judges into the worst of politicians,” and it urges the replacement of judicial elections with a merit-based appointment system.

To learn about the debate over judicial elections versus merit selection systems, see Justice at Stake’s issues page on the topic.

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