Judge Juan Colas Another Reason For Merit Selection Of Judges


While I very much agree with Judge Juan Colas’ decision on collective bargaining, I also very much agree with the sentiments of the Wisconsin State Journal about the need for merit selection of justices.

I have used this blog as a vehicle to advance the idea of merit selection.

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.

Today the WSJ had another reason with Judge Colas to advance this matter.

That’s not to say Colas made the wrong decision. We’ll leave the complicated  legal arguments over Act 10 to the courts. Nor do we know if Colas allowed  politics or public pressure to affect his decision.

The point is that Colas, as an elected judge, risks his job if he makes a  decision voters don’t like. And in this case, voters in union-loving Dane County  loved Colas’ determination that Walker’s curbs on unions were  unconstitutional.

So Colas should have an easy time winning re-election in 2015. Had he upheld  Walker’s law, Colas would have drawn aggressive opposition.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

Electing judges — especially at the high court level — isn’t working in  Wisconsin. Neither is the system of allowing governors to unilaterally appoint  justices to fill vacancies.

The bipartisan push by Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Dale Schultz,  R-Richland Center, for a better system of appointing high court justices  deserves support. Called merit selection, it would insulate the process from  politics (as much as possible) and prevent governors from stacking the high  court with cronies.

2 thoughts on “Judge Juan Colas Another Reason For Merit Selection Of Judges

  1. John Costello

    Regarding your assertion that high courts should be appointed rather than elected; I submit that this view is elitist and undemocratic.
    I realize that our federal judiciary is appointed but that is really out of necessity. The amount of judgeships to be filled and the background information required by voters to fill them would constitute an unreasonable obstruction to orderly government. So it is that ideal democracy, as in the people’s right to choose its government, is compromised for understandable reasons. This level of complexity does not exist at the state level however and the public should be capable of and entitled to choose its judges. In fact, it is that process that can create a “pool” of judges from which the executive branch chooses nominees for the federal courts, keeping the people’s will acting as a guide for their elected leaders.
    This system seems to be working about as well as can be expected. And I suppose that, at the state level, if “citizen panels” (elected, I trust) chose a pool of judges for the governor to choose from it would be a similar construct but one that seems easily corruptible and unnecessary. If the reason judges should be chosen by a few is that they would be less susceptible to demagoguery then it stands to reason that the same principle applies to all elections. But, we understand the risk and weigh in favor of democracy because it is our source of freedom and a way to correct the undemocratic trends that result from the various ways we must sidestep direct participation.
    Would you have us go back to having our state legislators choose the Senate? In that case corruption and the fact that direct election had proved itself in many states showed there were compelling reasons to change The Constitution. If a perceived susceptibility of the voter to demagoguery becomes the reason we take him/her out of the loop then we will be moving away from democracy toward rule by an elite.
    However, I sympathize with your lack of confidence that the voting public is capable of delivering a good result but I’d as soon go down in flames as surrender any more. The problem with big money in campaigns is what it does to the debate on issues. If voters can’t see past the bull we’re done anyway.

  2. CommonCents

    Excellent comments, John! Yes, shall we go back to appointing U.S. Senators, too.

    The WSJ editorial was disgusting, implying that Colas’ ruling was simply based on getting re-elected, so that they could further their own agenda of appointed judges.

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