Democracy Works in Wisconsin
April 2, 2008
Wisconsin voters ousted Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler last night, replacing him with challenger Michael Gableman.
Yet 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.