Justice David Prosser’s Perfect Political Storm

Meteorologists might term the confluence of upper winds, warm temperatures, and a ready supply of moisture all churning relentlessly under just the right conditions for days as the ‘perfect storm’.  The phenomenon is rare, but when it happens all eyes follow the developments and are amazed at the outcome.

Politicos around Wisconsin can now also rightly term the events swirling around the reelection efforts of David Prosser as the ‘perfect political storm’.  It would be nigh impossible to have predicted the scenario that now awaits the state and his candidacy.

News broke on Thursday afternoon that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals declined to rule on Dane County Judge Sumi’s order stopping the publication of  the controversial collective bargaining law which passed the Legislature and was signed by Governor Walker.  That means the legal matter will likely wind up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

No one could have predicted back on February 11th when Walker announced his budget repair bill  that all the anger and weeks of high emotion that have captivated this state would directly land in the lap of Justice David Prosser.

But that is exactly what has happened.

In a perfect world there would be merit selection for judges, as this blog has long advocated, and the political dynamics of collective bargaining would not be a  factor in this spring’s election.  David Prosser would not be in search of an  impenetrable seawall. 

In the ideal situation, even after all the facts that have presented themselves over the past five weeks are laid bare, voters would still look at the larger judicial scope of the candidates and not base their vote solely on the collective bargaining bill.

I fully understand I may have alienated some readers with that last line.

But hear me out.

As much as I do not favor electing judges, I also do not care for the ‘lets take our disgust of Governor Walker out on David Prosser’.  That seems intellectually lazy to me.  I get the anger part of why people are making the connection, but I find it unsettling.

I want to think that most voters are deeper than that.

There are many reasons to cast a solid vote against Prosser, and never even think about Walker.  That would be the sensible and rationale way to approach this election.

I was prepared long before Walker was even sworn into office to cast a vote opposing Prosser based on his lack of holding Michael Gableman to a higher level of responsibility for conduct, Prosser’s strict conservative philosophy, and his lack of appreciation for the crimes that Scott Jensen committed while serving in the State Legislature.

Lashing out at Governor Walker seems like a weak reason to cast a ballot against Prosser.

But these are not times when quiet reflection gets headlines.  The frothy debate and unconstitutional actions and disregard for the honored processes at the Capitol have made for frayed nerves and lots of anger.

I get that. 

I was, and still am, very upset with how this entire collective bargaining mess played out. 

One thing is clear, no matter how I feel about how others should reason their way through a series of issues before finally deciding on who to vote for in the Supreme Court race.

The thing we can all agree on is that there is a storm packing high winds that very well could change the landscape of the Supreme Court.

That is the political reality that David Prosser faces on April 5th.

Time For Merit Selection Of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices

Today the Wisconsin State Journal hit the nail on the head in their editorial concerning the spring elections.  Sadly, too few will make it to the final paragraphs in the piece, or think twice about it.

One of the issues where my thinking has evolved to the largest degree over time has to do with the way we select judges to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.  Twenty years ago I was a strong supporter of the election process which allowed state citizens a direct voice in electing judges. 

I admit there seems something very ‘American’ about the process.  I know there is still a very strong public desire for such elections, as people think that this process allows them to make for a better court system. 

But what is happening to the role of justice in Wisconsin with the blending of very costly campaigns that blur into political races should concern all of us.  The end result is not a better court system, but instead a fractured and deteriorated one. 

That we have allowed supreme court races to become multimillion dollar slugfests is undermining the way justice is conducted on the high court.  After all, the Supreme Court  has refused to adopt a rule on when specific campaign contributions should trigger recusals from cases that are pending before the justices.  That we even need to talk about such issues should send a clear signal that something is wrong, and a remedy is required.

My concern is that the rule of law, and the elevated stature of the judiciary are in jeopardy.  These are  important matters to consider.  I do not think just anyone should be allowed 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.  Justice should not be so easily manipulated.

This may smack some as elitist.  To them I ask they answer two concerns I have.

First, should the style that we witnessed this past November when electing Congress be a model for the way we elect a member to the supreme court? 

Second, does a slick series of ads from faceless contributors with deep pockets mean the candidate has the necessary skills or ethics to well serve the public, or the letter of the law?

I do not feel that those who think it is ‘their right’ to elect supreme court justices ever ponder the larger questions of process and ethics.

Therefore I am in complete agreement with what the WSJ penned today.

Then there’s the state Supreme Court race, which is shaping up to be another mud bath featuring millions of dollars in attack ads soiling the high court’s image. It’s a terrible way to select our top judges, who unlike other elected officials are supposed to be impartial and insulated from public influence.

For now, Wisconsin is stuck with its badly flawed judicial elections. And it’s hard to see how public financing of campaigns will change much, given that special interest groups can still spend whatever they want.

There is a way to correct the problems which comes from electing justices.   That would be just stop electing them!

We should strongly consider, and then implement the merit selection system for placing a judge on the high court.

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. 

The likes of  Annette Ziegler or a  Michael Gableman would never surface when the goal is to have the best and brightest serve. 

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 (hopefully) were taught in civics class.