The past few races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court have taken a sharp turn toward partisan politics.
That was certainly the case two years ago when Justice David Prosser held off a challenge from JoAnne Kloppenburg in a race that became a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker.
It happened in 2009 when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was labeled an activist judge by her unsuccessful challenger. And it was downright ugly in 2008 when special-interest groups used misleading ads to help Michael Gableman oust Justice Louis Butler.
Partisan rancor also is front and center in this year’s race between Justice Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone. That’s why we are choosing to not endorse either candidate. It’s become apparent that electing the most important arbiters of justice in the state is not about jurisprudence but about ideology.
Wisconsin is not alone. In 2009, Iowa voters removed three state Supreme Court justices because they voted that an Iowa law defining marriage as between a man and a woman represented unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Constitution. Outraged conservatives led the charge.
Most of the focus on this year’s Wisconsin race has been on the incumbent’s connection to the 2011 physical altercation between Prosser and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
Fallone says the incident demonstrates that the court is dysfunctional. Roggensack disagrees, but admits the court has a lot of repair work to do in the eyes of the public.
Fallone says the court’s inability to take disciplinary action is what prompted him to run. Because all but one justice witnessed or was involved in the incident, recusals have left the court unable to convene a three-judge panel that would make disciplinary recommendations.
It’s preposterous that our highest court can’t take any action when one judge is accused of wrapping his hands around the neck of another. In what other workplace would that be acceptable? Fallone is correct that this black eye for the court must be resolved.
But that incident came during an intense time while the court was ruling on Republican-backed measures to restrict bargaining rights for public workers. It should not be the singular measuring stick of the court’s effectiveness.
Both candidates have the credentials to serve, but this election will not be decided on qualifications and legal temperament. It will be decided on politics. It’s grown tiresome, but unless Wisconsin changes the way it selects justices, don’t look for that to change.