Merit Selection On Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s Radar


This is what I like to see.

One of the drum beats heard over and over on CP is the one demanding merit selection be used for placing justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Today the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized on the idea, and used the latest memo from Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to underscore the need for this reform.

Wisconsin’s high court should absolutely have an honest and open debate over the bipartisan push in the Legislature to end state Supreme Court elections. These ugly judicial elections, driven by shadowy special interest groups with lots at stake in future court decisions, are a huge contributor to our high court’s embarrassing dysfunction.

It was bad enough that the quality and experience of court candidates has been slipping over the last decade as judicial campaigns have become more vicious and money-soaked. It was bad enough that public distrust in court decisions has fallen just as partisan squabbles and 4-3 votes have increased.

As the paper noted Abrahamson was a supporter of merit selection decades ago, and one can only hope that she will lend her strong voice for this needed change to our judiciary in these troubled times.

The reasons rational and level-headed debate on this matter should take place is based on the recent history of the court.  I am not just referring to the shameful choking incident, but something even more depressing.

On this blog I have railed against the actions of Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler due to her ethical lapses as a circuit judge in Washington County. I have grave concerns about the message her presence on the bench sends not only to the Badger State, but also around the nation.

Meanwhile I had strong words of opposition over Michael Gableman, as I view him as an empty vessel without the intellectual heft that is required for the very important work on the court. In both cases, but for different reasons, these individuals are seriously flawed, and as a result the state judiciary suffers.

The fact that each of these individuals had the right to place their name on the ballot, raise huge amounts of money from special interest sources, and manipulate the voters with never-ending TV commercials in no way means that once elected they have the necessary skills or ethics to well serve the public, or the letter of the law. The manner in which they ran for the bench does not enhance the image of the court, or benefit our judicial system.

The current electoral flaws that allow a Ziegler or a Gableman to become a justice sends the wrong message about how importantly we should view our judicial system.

At a time when public approval of our government and public institutions are shrinking there should be ideas advanced that would reverse that sad downward trend. Merit selection is one idea that should be considered to make our State Supreme Court better, and also to assure the citizenry that qualified jurists are at work.

3 thoughts on “Merit Selection On Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s Radar

  1. Solly

    yes, I can’t wait for Walker to nominate, and the republican senate to confirm Justice Grothman, or Justice Gundrum, on a merit basis of course. Shrub ignored Bar Assn. recommendations of whether nominees were unqualified all the time.

  2. You are missing the point of how names rise to the top through the process. A legal minded group of lawyers, profs. etc would select from the cream of the crop. Those types who would never enter the political arena but would be top judges, as an example could be considered. From such a list then the Governor picks from, say five names. Under this plan a flame-thrower would never make it through the process. This is really the best idea for the court.

  3. Solly

    because even if such a system were passed by the legislature, Scott Walker would pay attention to the rules (like the legislature did with open meetings laws)? He’d more likely ignore the recommendations and say it was an unconstitutional infringement on his powers. And get a supportive opinion from JB Caspar Milquetoast Von Hollen. The rule of law in Wis is what Walker, JB and the Fitzbros decide it is as rubber stamped by the Supreme Court on the Fitzbros deadlines). At least we’d have a check if the people would ever wake up and use their power to vote

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