Prior to the passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, current Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was afforded the complacency of being an incumbent judge with 12 years under his belt. But, as has become the fashion in recent weeks, the power of association trumps logic with respect to all that is Walker.
Such was the rise of challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general who suddenly became the darling of those seeking to get back at Walker.
This board softly supports Kloppenburg on principle, though the idea of campaigning for a seat on the Supreme Court is counterintuitive to the impartial and fair characteristics commonly sought in a justice. Pair that with the single issue defining the race and you have an election as thoroughly disgusting as the union-busting Kloppenburg supporters seek to overturn.
The election of the court’s justices, so artfully displayed with Michael Gableman’s unseating of Justice Louis Butler in 2008, opens what is ostensibly a non-partisan race to a disturbing level of mudslinging. The integrity of this election has some saving grace in that both candidates have agreed to rely entirely on public funding for their campaigning, but that hasn’t curbed any of the politicking.
Prosser’s place in the four-justice conservative bloc has been exploited by Kloppenburg backers who note not only his 18-year stint in the Legislature, but a December release in which he claimed he would serve as an able “complement” to the governor. Though Prosser has since claimed he never approved the release, the label has stuck among those seeking his ouster.
Having served under four attorneys general, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, Kloppenburg’s broad experience isn’t in question per se. But when taking into account her specialization in environmental prosecution and the fact that she has never served on any court, let alone the state’s highest, it will be quite a shift in her responsibilities.
Prosser has proven himself a capable but steadfastly conservative voice on the bench. His claims of serving as a sound voice on the court amid vitriol must be taken with a grain of salt, however, as he has admitted to calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatening to “destroy” her.
Kloppenburg may work to act as a counterweight to Walker, but to decide a 10-year term on an issue that may never actually come before the court is short-sighted at best. She has maintained her ability to rise above politics, and she has shown this throughout her own campaigning.
In next week’s election, the race between partisanship and inexperience will come to a head. Though ideally there would be no race for this seat, impartiality appears to rest with Kloppenburg. This board is inclined to agree.