As the April 5 Election Day for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice draws nearer, the two opponents in the race traded barbs about the importance of experience and the capacity for impartiality on the bench in a debate held Tuesday.
Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg said the next justice on the court must work to restore the public’s confidence in the state’s highest court and be willing to work across partisan lines.
Prosser said his 12 years of experience on the Supreme Court and decisions on nearly 900 cases have been marked by continual outreach to thousands of constituents, including students and “moderate judgment.”
He also said he worked to pursue tightening of gun controls and focused on prosecuting domestic abuse, violent crime and controlled substance violations during his tenure as a district attorney.
He added while his adversaries have said he would pursue irrational partisanship and worked to align the campaign with Gov. Scott Walker’s political policies, he has not caused controversy between justices during his time in the court.
“I am not the source of conflict on the court,” Prosser said. “If we continue to pitch elections based on cases that might be coming up, we’re destroying the judiciary system in our state.”
Kloppenburg, a member of UW Law School’s teaching staff, said more than 20 years of experience as a litigator and prosecutor have provided first-hand experience in how Supreme Court decisions are understood by members of the legal community and the public.
She said it is imperative for judges to be independent and impartial, while Prosser’s campaign has centered around the objective of preserving a conservative majority on the court.
Time spent as a student at Yale University and Princeton University, as well as time serving the Peace Corps in Botswana, Kloppenburg said, have influenced her belief that the law effects all citizens in a powerful way.
She added her decisions on cases would not be made of the basis of personal vendettas or biases and the justice elected must account for politics in a manner that does not taint the court.
“I will work to remove the partisan divide that has caused disjunction among justices,” she said. “People across the spectrum believe I will bring impartiality to the court.”
In response to questions concerning the future role of the Supreme Court, Prosser said he favors a limited role for the courts because no judge unconditionally knows all the right answers in judicial situations.
He also said justices must be held accountable if they try to legislate from the bench, and because Kloppenburg is aligned against Walker, her agenda could be simply to recall recent controversial pieces of legislation.
Kloppenburg said because exercising democratic rights is often messy, there will be political differences created by pieces of legislation on the court, but she would work to approach all court cases with an open mind.
She added Prosser has previously said in public forums he is the candidate with the most partisan background and would likely make decisions along party lines on the bench.