Louis Butler
Former state Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler Joseph W. Jackson III -- State Journal archives

It came as no great surprise that President Obama turned to former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis B. Butler as his choice to serve as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Butler is uniquely qualified to replace Judge John Shabaz.

While others who applied had significant legal skills and important areas of specialization in the law, Butler brings remarkably broad experience to a courthouse that has not seen the appointment of a new federal judge in 28 years.

A veteran public defender in Milwaukee, Butler was appointed and then elected as a municipal judge in that city. He was then elected to serve on the busy Circuit Court bench of the state's most populous county.

His August 2004 appointment by Gov. Jim Doyle to serve as the first African-American justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court was historic. Butler quickly distinguished himself as not only the able jurist that members of the legal community expected him to be but as the most collegial member of the court.

His term expired on July 31, 2008. Butler's narrow defeat in his run for a full term on the court came after special interest groups poured millions of dollars into a sleazy and dishonest attack campaign that played on racial stereotypes and was condemned by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

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There was never much doubt that Butler would return to the judiciary. The veteran adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School and the current justice-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin Law School had skills that were so widely regarded that Butler has for many years been a faculty member of the National Judicial College, where he has provided judges from across the nation and around the world with continuing judicial education.

With an assist from Wisconsin Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, President Obama put the pieces together and made the best choice.