Merit Selection For Wisconsin Judges Slipped Into Editorial

Not for the first time, and certainly not the last time, the issue of merit selection for judges was mentioned in a Wisconsin State journal editorial. 

One might have almost missed the larger point of the editorial, given the emotion that has been spent on the collective bargaining issue in the state for over a month.  But in the midst of the political chaos that has now taken a legal turn, comes another example of why merit selection for judges is one more people need to be mindful of.

Over and over CP has advocated for merit selection, and applauds the WSJ for repeating the call by pointing out why this needed reform in our state’s judicial system would serve us all.

Unfortunately, because Wisconsin relies on unilateral appointments by the governor and popular elections to select its judges, Sumi’s ruling delaying publication of the collective bargaining law has been questioned on partisan grounds. 

Her decision, after all, is extremely popular among the union-loving Dane County population that elects her. And now an ongoing judicial race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court has become a referendum on collective bargaining rules, rather than an exercise in picking the most experienced, independent and impartial judge. 

Merit Selection For Wisconsin Court Way To Proceed

I have long long advocated for merit selection of judges.   

We can no longer pretend there is not a credibility problem with the court.  The electoral process is loaded with ways for special interests to almost insure that a candidate with an agenda is elected.  We all can recognize the reasons that ill-serves our state.  Since the general public has proved unable or unwilling to make better decisions for the judiciary, I think merit selection is an idea whose time has come.

Once again the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized on the matter in today’s newspaper.  How long before my fellow citizens clue into the fact the merit selection has…well…merit?

That’s why Wisconsin should select high court justices based on merit rather than on how good judicial candidates are at waging election campaigns or luring support from special interest groups.

The reputation of Wisconsin’s top court has been soiled in recent years by nasty judicial campaigns, ethics investigations and demands for justices to recuse themselves from big cases involving their campaign backers.

Merit selection — a system of appointing, rather then electing, top justices — would help bring back trust in the state Supreme Court. A panel of citizens insulated from politics would pick finalists for the Wisconsin Supreme Court when vacancies occurred. The governor or some other appointing authority would then pick a new justice from the list. Some states also allow voters to decide whether sitting justices keep their seats at the ends of their terms.

Joel Winnig For Wisconsin State Supreme Court, Respects Judicial Process

I need to make one thing perfectly clear before I start to write about why I will enthusiastically vote Joel Winnig for Wisconsin State Supreme Court.   

I admit this is not how endorsements usually start.  So please bear with me.

I do not think voters should make choices via the ballot box for the Supreme Court.

I favor merit selection of court justices, as do many in this state and across the nation.  Even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor views merit selection of state judges as a way to eliminate the undermining of the independence of the judiciary that is now taking place.

The major reason many frown on electing judges is the amount of money raised and used by special interests from both ends of the political spectrum for candidates.  At the end of the electoral process citizens have less reason to think justice is fair or balanced, or the legal decisions that govern them have not been bought and paid for by powerful interest groups.

I would like to know how all the candidates running for the high court this spring view the idea of merit selection.   That is just one of many topics that voters have a right to know.  A better informed electorate makes wiser choices on election day.

Which leads me to Joel Winnig.

Only Joel Winnig has stepped forward and proposed that instead of cash heavy ad buys on television Supreme Court candidates should engage the electorate with a debate or two.  That there has not been a positive response from the other candidates to get such a debate lined up means that ‘we the people’  end up the losers.

That is not how it should be.

Long before this race started I have paid attention to Joel Winnig.  Be it his common sense approach to topics of the day, or his personable style, Winnig seems smart and well-reasoned. 

Once Winnig announced his candidacy for the Supreme Court I started to watch closely how he walked his talk. 

That is, after all, what separates mere candidates from serious-minded individuals who seek to make a real difference if elected.

That Joel Winnig is taking public financing and operates around the idea that the court belongs to the people and not special interests made him my candidate for office.  At once!

That Winnig is not a wealthy lawyer, but a well-intentioned one who works for folks like me was another selling point for his election.  

Winnig understands the judicial process must be open and grounded in principles.  He does not abide tactics that undermines the faith citizens need to have in their justice system.  For most of us that should be a  “well, yeah”  statement.  To believe such things about the justice system should not have to be stated.  

But after the excessively expensive court races over the past few years, and the less than stellar people elected as a result of negative ads, we need a Joel Winnig  to be on the court.   We need someone to speak candidly about the flaws in the system, as we have drifted far from where the judiciary should be.  This needs to concern all of Wisconsin.

Which bring me back to the start of this blog post.

In a merit selection process a panel or board would find men and women like Joel Winnig and narrow them down to a small list to be presented to the Governor.  (Again, I have no idea how Winng feels about merit selection.)  The panel making the list would be a highly informed cross-section of the legal community in the state.    The rancor, money, and special interest components for what now passes as court campaigns would be ended. 

There are many fine legal minds like Joel Winnig in Wisconsin, but they often do not wish to enter the political arena.  Since we do not have merit selection process in this state, and probably will not for a long time, we are left to the current electoral process. 

Therefore we must look for the best person of those announced that will honor the judicial process and fairly read the law and interpret the Constitution.  I have faith that person is Joel Winnig.  I am most confident that he cares about the judical process and will honor it if elected this spring.

I ask my readers to cast a ballot for Joel Winnig on February 15, 2011.