During the heated race to elect a justice to Wisconsin?s Supreme Court, one lawmaker is calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would forego the election process altogether.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, announced last week he will offer an amendment that would allow the governor to appoint Supreme Court justices, just as the president appoints justices to the nation?s top federal court.
Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have already turned to merit selection of Supreme Court justices. According to Kessler, this legislation would pass to Wisconsin citizens for a general vote within four to five years.
In Wisconsin, Supreme Court justices are determined in a statewide election that has become notorious because of attack advertisements funded by special interest contributions.
In last year?s race between Justice Annette Ziegler and contender Linda Clifford, more than $6 million was spent, topping four times the previous record.
?All of this makes me conclude that we have to do something,? Kessler said. ?Supreme Court justices need security. They need decisional independence so they are not afraid of making an unpopular decision.?
Kessler?s proposal would give the justices this security. The 10-year term could be cut short by failing at justice duties but not by changes in partisan politics.
According to Kessler, this system would protect incumbent justices like Butler. Kessler has endorsed Butler, calling Butler?s opponent, Michael Gableman, ?an obscure judge from northern Wisconsin.?
However, Kessler?s proposals have met with opposition in the state Legislature. Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, likened merit selection and appointment of justices to the British monarchy prior to the Revolutionary War.
?I think we should focus on cleaning up these attack ads rather than further remove voters from the democratic process,? Suder said. ?Appointment of justices is completely anti-democratic.?
This year?s election had no shortage of mudslinging, with interest group advertisements accusing candidates of threatening the safety of Wisconsin?s communities.
One ad posted on YouTube accused incumbent Justice Louis Butler of ?working to put criminals back on the street.?
Kessler likened the current race for Supreme Court justice to John Grisham?s latest novel, ?The Appeal.? According to reviews of ?The Appeal,? Grisham overtly suggests judges can be bought, creating an obstruction to justice.
Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said merit selection would be an improvement to the current situation but is by no means the only answer.
?We need to focus on creating dignified elections,? McCabe said. ?I say, let the people decide. ? There is also an elitist premise behind merit selection, that a panel of experts can decide better than the people.?
McCabe also said his group, which advocates fair elections, has supported legislation to mandate publicly financed campaigns for Supreme Court justices. According to McCabe, the removal of private funding from the electoral process would remedy the current situation.