Giving the People a Voice in Judicial Elections

By April 2, 2008Briefly Legal

Apt commentary on the Wisconsin Supreme Court election from Dan Pero of the American Justice Partnership, writing at his blog, American Courthouse:

[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.”

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Susan Titus Glascoff says:

    Please regard this as adendum to what sent a couple minutes ago. Wanted to say I am Exec. Dir. of national ASdvisory Bd to national Coalition for family justice- 501c3 since 1988 and has helped over 10,000 going thru divorce- both male anf female. Some men are on my advisory bd and are also horrified re how courts impoverish entire families AND admit more often it is the wife relative to husband. I am also memeber of 2 Who’s Whos (including prof. of yr for 2007/7 because of lifelong advocacy) and beiing considered for third.

  • Susan Titus Glascoff says:

    I’m very short on time here, but firmly believe merit has to be part of judicial selection. However, merit absolutely cannot be decided by a group that is all or even mostly lawyers and judges. No group is ever great at policing itself- goes against human nature. part of the problem is of course everyone is so busy that few really keep abreast of judicial elections, hence entire selection process needs to be revamped- maybe include rotating ombudsmen-type lay groups to assist in determinations, etc. Any judge who has any well-documented cases vs them re bias, etc. should get extremely close scrutiny- and this rarely happens. If it did there wouldn’t be any judicial hellholes. I’ve been attending a divorce case (Taub v Taub where Judge Sarah krauss ordered wall be built in middle of house rather than ask husband to leave even tho he was/remains $50+ millionaire & judge decided wife needed order of protection- she was filing on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment, & had scads evidence but jury trial for first filing denied it because Judge Carolyn Demarest wouldn’t allow jury to hear expert witness, Dr Stark, testify re his 7 hours of iinterviews with wife, noting she exhibited all the major symptoms of abuse; judge forbid jury hear horrendous abusive tape of phone call of husband to wife; judge closed court for jury picking and it surely wasn’t a jury of wife’s peers, & judge persuaded jury to discount testimony of 4 essentially gorwn kids re cintinual abuse of father, ETC., ETC) in Brooklyn, NY for over a year (& read all transcripts, etc., etc. for the almost 3-yr time since first filing). Husband has 3 buildings in foreclosure- foreclosures affect rest of society. Legal bills have been close to $2M for him and nearing $!M for wife tho she’s very much in arrears & new atty has been handling case essentially pro bono awhile. Highly documented complaints to administrative judge and judicial complaint commission basically have been ignoring the case even tho there are some blatant legal “errors,” Etc.
    There have been 5 annual nat’l battered mothers’ custody conferences in Albany where lots of evidence has been presented that when mother dares to say ex (or about-to-be ex) has been abusing kids, HE gets custody. Official Pres. Task force statistic is that abusers are 2x as likely to seek custody. Another study found 70% of them get it- that’s a HORROR STORY! Over a decade ago brandeis U. did study finding that among poorest segment of population is divorced women 63+. NYT just published that 51% of women aren’t married and that it takes average of 10-20 yrs more for young people to settle down. Could it be all fear divorce, but esp. women who want financial security & surely would never want to lose custody (I recognize that some should as become lousy mothers but they are few), even if they don’t consciously acknowledge it?
    Our entire legal system has become too often about who can win and not justice. Often high-powered lawyers rule the system, including influencing the judges, prosecutors and other court actors. Former Senator Bill Bradley’s new book, “The New American Story,” says 10 cents of every medical dollar goes to legal system. He notes that just in the asbestos cases, $49 Billion was awarded, but $23Billion went to lawyers and another $21Billion was spent on defense! In various ways all these costs get passed onto all society.
    In 2004 I had web petition asking that judicial accountability be part of presidential campaign debates. I soon got 189 signatures & site stopped working. I was told interest wasn’t there, etc. & nothing could be done. THEN there were 11 MILLION website requested judicial reform. After election across my screen came- “Aren’t you glad the election turned out the way it did?” In 2005 I sent huge documented report to over 100- 21 senators, other key people, lots major media- re all above. The in fall of 2007 I sent part of that with new data to current pres. debate comm. asking for discussion of legal accountability- havne’t read or heard the topic mentioned by any candidate! Next week I’ll be speaking at Int’l Summit on Economic Justice for Women- wonder if media will pick it up. Legal accountability will be one topic. I have masters in health advocacy as well as math. I have 3 sons, 2 stepsons, 5 grandchildren, & have been remarried 15 yrs. I’m surely not anti-male, just pro human. I was married for 23 years to very high-powered atty, so i know the ropes! As Thomas Jefferson said in 1821, “The germ of the destrcution of our nation is in the power of the judiciary.” reason given was for lack of checks and balances! No time to preview.

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