Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wisconsin Supreme Court election attracts attention

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.


smschwamb said...

There was another issue the WMC had at stake in the Supreme Court election. They wanted to punish
Butler for his ruling that let the Lead Paint cases go to trial. They removed Butler and replaced him with a less progressive judge they could influence !!
I am convinced that they spent millions of dollars (on the campaign) to silence the evidence -esp. in Milwaukee, where lead paint was used extensively. I would suggest readers who are concerned about the health problems created by use of lead paint start researching.
I believe many children in Milwaukee -exposed to lead paint- have neurological damage-affecting their behavior and learning process. I attended lead paint court trials and heard information which saddened and angered me.
The victims of lead paint poisioning are suffering and they should be compensated.
Just as agent orange and asbestos -lead paint poisoning is devastating.
The WMC is attempting to protect the paint industry !!!

Sherry Schwamb

firelawyer said...

And that might not be the end of Wisconsin's turn as America's judicial laughingstock. At the recent State Bar Convention, CNN commentator and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin says he will be writing a national piece about the dirtiest state judicial elections, and is deciding whether to use Wisconsin or Alabama as the setting. What lovely company we've been put into by the Ziegler and Gableman elections...