Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


High court election could be worse

As a native of the great state of Minnesota, I have to say,
I’m pretty happy with the Badger State these days. What’s more is that I’m
particularly proud of Wisconsin politics in the wake of the most recent state
Supreme Court race.


I know, I know, all you’ve seen and heard has indicated that
nothing good could be drawn from the contemptible race between sitting justice
Louis Butler and circuit judge Michael Gableman. And it certainly was ugly.
Hell, even the wrong guy won. But there’s a silver lining to this mess, and it
has to do with Wisconsin’s unique partisan tendencies.


By all accounts, Mr. Gableman was the conservative and Mr.
Butler the liberal. Not so much because their ideologies or previous judicial
decisions were aligned in such a manner — though they were, for the most part —
but primarily because of the partisan support they received. Mr. Butler was the
target of vicious attack ads from conservative interest groups, primarily
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Mr. Gableman was the target of attacks
from liberal interest groups, primarily the Greater Wisconsin Committee and One
Wisconsin Now.

Likewise, the Democratic and Republican parties of Wisconsin
were major donors to the different campaigns. Though the state’s ethics code
for judges virtually prohibits direct alignment with any political party, in
most Wisconsin voters’ minds there might as well have been a “D” and
an “R” next to the candidates on the ballot. Even the two candidates’
backgrounds lent to ideological stereotyping: Mr. Gableman is a white male from
the small town of West Allis while Mr. Butler is a black man from Milwaukee.

The race was bitter, the race was decided wrongly, and above
all, the race was extremely partisan. But the common misconception is that
we’ve got it the worst here in Wisconsin — that our deep partisan divides in
this state make the Supreme Court elections that much worse. On the surface,
that may seem to be true. If Wisconsin were a decidedly “red state”
or a decidedly “blue state,” re-electing a judge based on ideological
tendencies would be infinitely easier and less controversial.

The current system of electing Wisconsin Supreme Court
justices is extremely flawed and flies in the face of the most fundamental of
judicial principles — the protectors of law should be beholden only to the
law. But reform of the current system doesn’t appear to be in the cards any
time soon, and while it remains as such, I couldn’t be happier to be in a state
with a political ideology that is as diverse as it is unpredictable.

The primary reason political parties and interest groups
have become so heavily invested in Supreme Court elections is because nothing
is for sure in this state. This is the state that has been carried by a margin
of less than 12,000 votes in each of the past two presidential elections. This
is the state where the Republican Party was founded and the state that parades
its progressive tradition. It’s the same state that produced Joe McCarthy and
Bob La Follette, the state that produced Russ Feingold and elected Tommy
Thompson to an unprecedented four consecutive terms in office.

The self-proclaimed function of the Supreme Court is to
“ensure independent, open, fair and efficient resolution of disputes in
accordance with the federal and state constitutions and laws.” By all
accounts, our Supreme Court is not functioning with its intended purpose, and
most of that can be directly tied to the system in which we elect our justices.

But the age-old adage that “politics is all that’s
wrong with government” simply doesn’t hold true when Wisconsin elects its
Supreme Court — as ugly as it gets, I’m afraid politics is the only thing
that’s right.

Andy Granias ([email protected]) is a
junior majoring in political science and philosophy.

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