April's Wisconsin Supreme Court election continues to attract attention, most recently on the front page of the May 25th New York Times.
In the election a little know and inexperienced Burnett County Circuit Court judge, Michael J. Gableman, defeated Wisconsin's only African American Supreme Court Justice, Louis Butler. Over $5 million was spent, mainly by outside groups on negative ads. As Paul Soglin, among others have noted, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) has spent huge amounts in the state's last two Supreme Court elections in an effort to promote hard line Republican candidates with very weak credentials.
The Times reports that Gableman's campaign ran a negative, racially charged ad that accused Butler of using a loophole to free a convicted rapist who then went on to rape again. Many believe that the "loophole Louie" label and the Willie Horton style ad were so effective that they led to Gableman's narrow margin of victory.
Normally, state boosters would welcome a feature story on the front page of one of the most prominent papers in the country. But this isn't the kind of publicity that Wisconsin needs. It certainly won't help keep or attract young professionals, particularly young people of color, to the state. But, what the hey, we earned it at the ballot box.
Adam Liptik writes that:
Last month, Wisconsin voters did something that is routine in the United States but virtually unknown in the rest of the world: They elected a judge.
The vote came after a bitter $5 million campaign in which a small-town trial judge with thin credentials ran a television advertisement falsely suggesting that the only black justice on the state Supreme Court had helped free a black rapist. The challenger unseated the justice with 51 percent of the vote, and will join the court in August...
The question of how best to select judges has baffled lawyers and political scientists for centuries, but in the United States most states have made their choice in favor of popular election. The tradition goes back to Jacksonian populism, and supporters say it has the advantage of making judges accountable to the will of the people. A judge who makes a series of unpopular decisions can be challenged in an election and removed from the bench...
In the rest of the world, the usual selection methods emphasize technical skill and insulate judges from the popular will, tilting in the direction of independence. The most common methods of judicial selection abroad are appointment by an executive branch official, which is how federal judges in the United States are chosen, and a sort of civil service made up of career professionals.
The entire article is linked.