[Before] Butler had even conceded the race, calls began for the creation of a public financing system for state Supreme Court campaigns. Some have even proposed abolishing judicial elections in Wisconsin and imposing what’s known as “merit selection” – a scheme that transfers the power to pick judges from the people to a closed-door committee of lawyers, usually dominated by the trial bar.
These incumbent protection plans – usually masquerading as judicial “reform” – are based on the notion that we need to get “politics” out of courthouse races. But judicial elections are the only remedy Wisconsin voters have to remove judges who are out of step with their views – as Justice Butler clearly was.
Remember that Butler lost his own bid to unseat a sitting justice by a landslide and rose to the bench only after being appointed by a Democrat governor. Once on the court, he proved to be a judicial activist, imposing his own ideological views rather than interpreting the law – confirming the suspicions of Wisconsin voters who had earlier denied him a seat.
Activist judges like Butler are popular with liberal special interests, but, as last night’s results show, they rarely win the support of the people. Wisconsin voters won a key victory for democracy yesterday – but they need to be on guard for schemes to keep the people at arms length from the judicial selection process.
Yes. When you see somebody damning politics in the judicial selection process, they’re really damning the people.
UPDATE (2 p.m.): The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, writing in the e-mail Political Diary, notes that Wisconsin’s court is the eighth most cited state supreme court in the country. He concludes: “What voters in even liberal Wisconsin — which hasn’t voted for a Republican at the presidential level since 1984 — showed is that they will plump for judicial restraint when presented with a clear choice. Given that 38 states elect appellate-level judges, the lesson from Wisconsin’s election this week could have national implications.”
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