As a political junkie, I confess to being very interested in the outcome of tomorrow’s state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin between conservative incumbent David Prosser and liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.
The race has become an unlikely proxy for the larger political disputes rocking Wisconsin and the rest of the country. Because they took public financing, the two candidates can spend no more than $400,000 each on their campaigns, but outside groups and special interests are dumping so much money into the increasingly bitter race that total spending is expected to top $5 million, according to Politico.
For example, a group calling itself “Citizens for a Strong America” is claiming in a TV ad that “”Kloppenburg is so extreme, she even put an 80-year-old farmer in jail for refusing to plant native vegetation on his farm.” But when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Politifact team went looking for the group, allegedly based in Beaver Dam, Wisc., it found no trace of it.
“…. there are no Beaver Dam phone numbers listed for Citizens for a Strong America,” Politifact found, “or for Veronica Johnson, a person identified as having placed the TV ad.” (It also found the ad in question “ridiculously false.”)
But politics aside, as a citizen I have serious concerns about turning judicial races into highly partisan campaigns into which special interests dump a lot of money. Wisconsin isn’t alone in that trend; it’s a national phenomenon, and has played a role in several judicial races here in Georgia as well.
The judiciary is not the legislative or executive branch, where partisan politics are an accepted part of the process. The justice system works because everybody who walks into a courtroom is supposed to have a fair and equal shot. In contrast, a system in which we elect judges because they are perceived to be biased in a particular direction undercuts justice and the perception of justice. It also can’t help but create a situation in which judges themselves feel pressured to help those who helped them, and to punish those who worked against them. The more high-stakes the confrontation, the more probable such sentiments become.
Such influences have always existed to a degree. The question is whether, through laws and standards of public behavior, you attempt to minimize those non-judicial influences or you give them free rein. Increasingly, we are taking the latter course, and we’re all the losers in that one.
– Jay Bookman