Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Select, don’t elect

Last year, Annette Ziegler defeated Linda Clifford for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in what was the most expensive judicial race in state history. The price tag was nearly $6 million between the candidates? own fundraising efforts and the spending of outside interest groups. Ms. Clifford drew large support from labor unions and lobbyists closely tied to the Democratic Party, while Ms. Ziegler drew her main support from the interest group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, as well as from the Republican Party.

The race also saw a bevy of negative campaign ads and smear tactics ? most of which came from private interest groups ? which had little to do with the legal qualifications of either candidate.

With last year?s race fresh in the minds of Wisconsin legislators, it is of the utmost importance that our state reforms the way it selects its Supreme Court justices. A refined method of selection is paramount to safeguarding the court?s mission of ?independent, open, fair and efficient resolution of disputes in accordance with the federal and state constitutions and laws.?

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Currently, Wisconsin voters elect justices to 10-year terms unless there is an open seat on the court, in which case the governor appoints a justice who will stand for election the first year no other justice?s term expires. While it may seem attractive to have citizens vote directly for justices, these candidates do not ? and, indeed, should not ? have policy positions on which to evaluate them. Effective campaigning requires candidates to sacrifice their impartiality, or at least give the appearance of doing so.

Since the beginning of the year, The Wisconsin State Journal has served as the most prominent mouthpiece for reform in the state. While we share most of their concerns about the existing election system, we disagree with their solution. The State Journal?s editorial board has called for a system ?controlled by an independent selection committee ? composed of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed to staggered terms by a variety of non-political and political sources.? Their proposed committee would select a small number of possible nominees that the governor could choose from.

While the idea of a nonpartisan, impartial selection committee seems like a nice idea, we have our reservations. If those selecting nominees were appointed by the governor, then the hurdle of partisanship would only be heightened and not avoided. Likewise, if the committee were comprised of lawyers or elected officials, why not simply have the Legislature be the institution to determine the merits of a nominee?

We believe a system mirroring the selection and confirmation process for the federal bench would most adequately serve the purpose of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In the true spirit of checks and balances, the governor should be free to nominate anyone he deems worthy and the Legislature free to confirm or deny any nominee based on his or her merits.

While Supreme Court justices will likely have judicial philosophies in line with the elected officials who have appointed and confirmed them, they will also have the freedom to decide impartially without the pressure of having to be reelected. If we are demanding high-level scrutiny from judges in their practice, we should demand the same of their selection.

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