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Merit Selection, Merit Selection, Merit Selection!

February 21, 2018

There was a cheer at our home when news came in that Tim Burns has been defeated in the spring primary for a seat on the Supreme Court.  I had written a post outlining my concerns over Burns leading up to the election.

On any level playing field Burns is intelligent, determined,  and skillful.   Had he constructed a campaign on those merits I might have a far different opinion of his candidacy.  Instead, however, Burns has taken a most partisan course in the spring primary–going so far as to identify as a Democrat in a television ad.  That is most concerning.

His defeat, however, does not lessen the larger problem that is consuming the court–and that is a partisan feel which then undermines the confidence the citizens have in the judiciary.

When a student in the classrooms of my youth there was a great honorable and noble aspect to the state Supreme Court elections.  Civics had me understand that those elections should not be partisan.  The reason was clear.  Judges were different from lawmakers and needed to be above the fray of politics.  To almost quote from those texts which inspired me, I suspect the words were akin to ‘judges were not elected to represent constituents’–they were elected to rule on laws.

Somewhere between those days of my youth and this past spring primary something went very wrong.

I truly felt slimed by the interjection of really overt politics into the selection of a judge.  I am very aware that partisan maneuvers have been underway for many elections, and I have called them out over time, too.  Over the years it is clear the popular vote method for selecting a judge has become a process far removed from civics books.  The races are now endless accusations and special-interest money piled higher than the chair a justice sits on at the bench.

At the end of the day we have nothing more than a furthering erosion of the trust in the court.    When the same folks who raise the money and spend it on behalf of a justice then stand before the court and ask for a ruling makes for sickening feelings all through the citizenry.

Which then begs the question what might be a better path forward in selecting justices for the high bench?    The answer is merit selection.  About half of the states appoint high court members  based on merit, rather than on their ability to wage campaign wars.

There are different ways that merit selection can work.  But the process could start with a nonpartisan group that would recommend names for the court.  Then either the governor or legislature might make the selection.  After a set number of years the voters could then vote yes or no on retaining that person for another term.

What appeals to me so very much is the idea that the first step in the process would insure that only highly qualified and thoughtful names would be advanced.  The ones with low ethical standards that do not mesh with our ideals, or those without intelligence that reflects our needs would be weeded out.

To allow for the corroded electoral process of electing justices to continue does not serve the greater good, or live up to the standards of justice that we were taught in civics class.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2018 12:32 PM

    Quite the contrary, Wiscasnin,

    “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”…….Franklin D, Roosevelt

    And our state. more than ever, needs to be again trained in civics education. No educated electorate, for example would have placed Gableman on the bench following his foul campaign against the Supreme Court’s only African-American, Louis Butler. You may approve of such behavior, but there-in lies the problem.

    Our judiciary must not be a place where the faith to law comes second to the whims of partisans who are not able or willing to understand the gravity of their vote. Those types of voters are too easily swayed and manipulated with excess money and partisanship.

    The judiciary is just too important not to care about in this state. Merit selection would be a good step for democracy.

  2. Wiscasnin Conservative Digest permalink
    February 23, 2018 10:08 AM

    These people hate democracy, the votes of the regular citizens of Wisconsin, we are just too dumb.

  3. February 21, 2018 5:40 PM

    I felt I had argued why merit selection is superior to selecting judges based on voting–a process that has now dived so low that a candidate has even named the party he called home. You can rail against merit selection but all you seem to offer is a judiciary that is bought with partisan cash and even more partisan rhetoric– based on the just concluded race by Burns. For about two decades i have been behind merit selection as it would make the process less partisan. As I have argued many years ago merit selection would have removed Gableman from even making the list as the ones compiling the names would have rank and stature which would be publicly diminished should they even attempt at considering one with such low abilities. I think with more consideration on your part to this change the advantages to merit selection will become evident. I have placed a link here that might aid in some ways towards that result. Thank you for writing.

  4. February 21, 2018 4:08 PM

    Merit selection. This is a tautology.

    What metrics for merit of the judiciary’s top appellate judges?

    What premises are behind your argument?

    Wisconsin jurists become capable of engaging in magically determined apolitical, judicial policy-making because why? Because the gov and legislature are the agents, and let me guess become transformed with only appointing those an imagined group committed to merit?

    Can you imagine any problems with the contention the gov and legislature are apolitical?

    “Nonpartisan group?”

    Created, and sustained how? Composed of whom?

    Those committed to “merit.”

    Merit selection is a two-word talking point, what little meaning you and advocates offer is non-sense.

    A more accurate two-word description is fantasy land.

    Tim Burns would have been a wonderful justice because he is brilliant, and committed to the people for whom the Constitution and laws are created: Wisconsin citizens, with powerful voting rights, for whom the Wisconsin Constitution protects water—so forth.

    Writing merit selection one more time in the title of your piece will not make it so.

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