John Nichols: A campaign to renew high court credibility

2013-01-06T05:00:00Z John Nichols: A campaign to renew high court credibilityJOHN NICHOLS | The Capital Times | jnichols@madison.com madison.com

Wisconsin has three branches of government and two ways of electing members of those branches.

The three branches are familiar enough: executive, legislative, judicial. The two ways of electing members of those branches are a bit trickier.

The governor, attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state are elected in partisan races, as are members of the Assembly and Senate.

But circuit and appellate court judges and state Supreme Court justices are elected in nonpartisan contests, as is the state superintendent of public instruction.

In this era of hyper-partisanship, the lines often blur and contests for Supreme Court and superintendent of public instruction can seem virtually indistinguishable from partisan races.

But there are distinguishing features. When Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson ran for re-election in 2009, she had the backing of progressive Democrats such as Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and now-Sen. Tammy Baldwin, as well as Republicans such as former Gov. Scott McCallum and former Congressman Mel Laird. Laird, who served as Richard Nixon’s secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, will never be accused of being a liberal. But he said of Abrahamson: “I’ve known Shirley for 30 years. She’s everything Wisconsin wants from its public officials and, particularly, its judges. She’s independent, tough-minded, hardworking and, above all else, fair. She’s committed to the people of this state and its values.”

Laird was upholding the best traditions of a state where both parties historically believed in putting partisanship aside in choosing top jurists and the head of public education. Unfortunately, that tradition has been assaulted in recent years.

And it will be tested this year.

In the Supreme Court race, Justice Patience Roggensack has aligned with an activist majority that has made the high court a rubber stamp for Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Top Republican strategists have prominent roles in the Roggensack campaign. At the same time, one of Roggensack’s challengers, attorney Vince Megna, loudly proclaims: “I’m a Democrat, there’s no doubt about that.”

Only the third contender in the Feb. 19 primary seeks to uphold the Wisconsin tradition of nonpartisanship in judicial races. Marquette University Law School professor Edward Fallone, a top constitutional scholar, rejects partisan labels and partisan politics.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court is dysfunctional and the only way to fix it is to change the personalities on the bench,” said Fallone.

“I am not beholden to any political party or faction on the court or any special-interest group,” he added. “The people of Wisconsin expect — and deserve — judges who respect the importance of an independent judiciary and who are impartial and fair. That is the kind of justice I will be.”

Stating the obvious with regard to scandal-plagued Justice David Prosser — who Justice Roggensack has aligned with politically and repeatedly defended — Fallone said: “The increased politicization of the court and the court’s dysfunction exemplified by its inability to credibly handle allegations of inappropriate behavior by Justice Prosser are clearly damaging the court’s ability to deliver justice and serve the people of this state.”

In his approach to the race, Fallone is a throwback to a different time, when judicial politics had more to do with the judiciary and less to do with politics. If he succeeds, his approach could go a long way toward restoring the battered credibility of a once-great court.


John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. 251001
    Report Abuse
    251001 - January 07, 2013 11:07 am
    Dode, Here is the only way a comment like yours can be appropriately answered!

    NA NA NA NA NAAAAAAA!
  2. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - January 07, 2013 8:23 am
    There are still depths to plumb in my low estimate of your literacy, but the journey appears to be progressively shorter with every comment you post.
  3. Warren G Harding
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    Warren G Harding - January 06, 2013 8:40 pm
    Ann Walsh Bradley has been arrested for DUI three times and once for shooting holes in the Capitol's marble walls. Judge Prosser had to call these librul women b--tches because that is what they are. Now that's what a good judge does. If you are mocking a person you already have the upper hand which means your facts are true facts. Then, take the person's first name and make it a mocking diminuitive. That mocks them all the more and means you've won twice in a row. The union thugs, drug addicts, welfare queens, gays, Muslims, lazy greedy teachers, nurses and state employees, bicycle riders, vegans, pointy-headed elitists, America-hating "scientists", actors, writers, musicians, artists, abortionists, minority groups, Mexicans and oil-stealing Iraqis will never stop Republican Rule.
  4. Warren G Harding
    Report Abuse
    Warren G Harding - January 06, 2013 8:23 pm
    I saw libruls defecating on the floors, shooting holes in the marble and beating up Republicans. The dirty Democrat Party caused over $7 million dollars worth of damage to the building. Judge Prosser will choke anybody who threatens him; choking women who threaten you is in the Constitution.
  5. Warren G Harding
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    Warren G Harding - January 06, 2013 8:19 pm
    if your to stupid(sic) That is some really good speling. However, you got liberal wrong. It's usually speled librul or librul.
  6. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - January 06, 2013 2:59 pm
    And I'm supposed to "know" this HOW? Vince Megna says right up front "I'm a Democrat, and proud of it." Fallone hasn't done that. He says he's non-partisan. What has he said or written that would lead you to lump him together with Megna?

    IOW, WHY don't you buy it? Are we just supposed to take your word for it?
  7. AllAmerican11B
    Report Abuse
    AllAmerican11B - January 06, 2013 2:23 pm
    Fallone said, “I am not beholden to any political party or faction on the court or any special-interest group,”

    So if Mr. Fallone is "not beholden" to anyone or anything then Mr. Fallone must not be accepting any money from anyone and therefore Mr. Fallone must be financing his campaign himself. So why isn't the story about how Mr. Fallone trying to buy a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    Mr. Nichols boldly claimed, "The Oshkosh Republican [Ron Johnson], who bought himself a Senate seat in 2010" You can read it for yourself in this article, John Nichols: Ron Johnson, R-Delusion, it's in the second sentence.

    John Nichols is a political hypocrite.
  8. Mr_Deeks
    Report Abuse
    Mr_Deeks - January 06, 2013 1:45 pm
    Richard, Come ON! You know full well that Fallone is an uber-left, blow-hard activist. Nichols must think that we just fell off the turnip truck. I know that you can't believe for one minute that this guy is non-partisan. He is just partisan to your side! If you heard that drivel comoing from Roggensack you would scream bloody murder!

    Nice try, Johnny, I don't buy it.
  9. Dode
    Report Abuse
    Dode - January 06, 2013 12:48 pm
    Once again, Little Johnny claims to want to move "Forward" while yet always wanting to back to the former glory days of the left. Just like Davey Z. Johnny leaves out that the hyper partisanship is from his party and the scandal plagued Walsh Bradley who attacked Prosser and forced him to defend himself. He's funny too, labeling conservatives as being activists. Who was the party tearing apart the capitol two years ago, Johnny?
  10. 251001
    Report Abuse
    251001 - January 06, 2013 10:54 am
    Lynne 4300,

    Yes, exactly, we need to eliminate the 1st Amendment if we are to "correctly" understand this issue, or, choose judges, who are capable of"properly" interpreting it!
  11. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - January 06, 2013 9:19 am
    You seem to have some marginal skill at literacy, so let me reproduce 2 paragraphs from the article which you evidently skipped over in your haste to display your ignorance:

    = = = = = =

    I am not beholden to any political party or faction on the court or any special-interest group,” he added. “The people of Wisconsin expect — and deserve — judges who respect the importance of an independent judiciary and who are impartial and fair. That is the kind of justice I will be.”

    In his approach to the race, Fallone is a throwback to a different time, when judicial politics had more to do with the judiciary and less to do with politics. If he succeeds, his approach could go a long way toward restoring the battered credibility of a once-great court.

    = = = = = =

    You must lead a sad life, since you always seem to find the dark, miserable side of everything, even when it's not really there.
  12. Lynne4300
    Report Abuse
    Lynne4300 - January 06, 2013 9:05 am
    The best way to increase credibility, is for "opinions" by John to be omitted..
  13. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 06, 2013 7:59 am
    So John, can only liberals be creditable?
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