The Wisconsin Supreme Court, once one of the most respected benches in the nation, has become a dysfunctional pit of partisanship that invites national mockery.
And a case can be made that no member of the court is more responsible for the dysfunction than Justice Pat Roggensack.
As a veteran jurist and a senior member of the four-justice caucus on the court that has aligned itself with Gov. Scott Walker, Roggensack is arguably the justice with the greatest responsibility to bring a measure of discipline to the proceedings. Yet she has chosen to side with out-of-control and ethically challenged members of her caucus rather than to work with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to restore order.
When the court blew up in the summer of 2011, Roggensack could have played the pivotal role in addressing Justice David Prosser’s verbal and physical harassment of female jurists. Instead, she defended Prosser, whose actions led the Wisconsin Judicial Commission to recommend that the court discipline the troubled justice for misconduct. Roggensack could have helped the court regain stability, but she chose instead to erect roadblocks to the disciplinary proceedings. Her rank partisanship has damaged the court.
At the same time, Roggensack rejected the rule of law, joining with her caucus to dismiss Wisconsin’s historic commitment to transparent governance in order to provide judicial cover for legislative allies of Walker who violated open meetings laws. Roggensack has a right to her conservative positions, but she engaged in judicial activism at its worst when she rejected the rule of law in order to advance the agenda of her political allies.
Now she is collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the interests she served, as part of a re-election campaign in which she is already running negative commercials.
No single intervention by the voters of Wisconsin would do more to right the course of the court than an electoral rejection of Roggensack.
The first opportunity to do that comes Feb. 19, when the justice faces two challengers in a nonpartisan primary.
The challengers, consumer law attorney Vince Megna and Marquette University Law School professor Edward Fallone, are both credible contenders, but we prefer Fallone.
Megna has a history of fighting for consumers, particularly those who have been harmed by car manufacturers and car dealers. He has played a significant role in defining “lemon law,” the set of statutes and precedents that provide a remedy for purchasers of cars and other consumer goods that fail to meet standards of quality and performance. Wisconsinites are better protected in the marketplace because of Megna’s energetic defenses of their interests, and we are quite sure that he would bring a valuable perspective to the high court.
As a candidate, Megna has been aggressive in his condemnations of Roggensack. And he has drawn clear lines of distinction, identifying himself as a Democrat just as he identifies the incumbent as a Republican favorite.
While that is an accurate portrayal, we fear it plays into the partisan conflict on the court.
Our preference is for the approach taken by Fallone, who has focused more on trying to dial down the partisanship and to address the dysfunction on the court, which he correctly suggests “has had an effect on the quality of their work.”
Fallone is serious about restoring balance and respect for the rule of law to the court, and he is determined to work with conservatives and liberals to achieve that end.
A highly regarded scholar of the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions, Fallone is also an able practicing attorney who has 25 years of experience in local, state and federal courts. He has broad experience with regard to constitutional law, immigration law, securities regulation, and corporate law. He’s an expert on stem cell and science issues, and he’s been honored for his active engagement with diverse ethnic, racial and economic communities.
Fallone has wrestled with the great issues facing the judiciary, penning thoughtful assessments of issues such as collective bargaining, the right to assemble and petition for the redress of grievances, open meetings and the role of jurists in civil society.
When former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who for many years chaired the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed Fallone, he said, “In addition to his intellectual know-how, Ed has a proven commitment to fair treatment in our justice system. His work in the community and on campus has helped working people obtain legal representation when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer. Ed is exactly the kind of fair-minded person we need making legal decisions on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And we have a lot of work to do to get out in front of the out-of-state billionaires and corporate interests who are willing to spend millions to buy their way out of facing an impartial judge.”
We share that view, as we do Feingold’s observation: “Ed won’t be beholden to corporate interests that want to make the court a wing of their political operation.”
We normally don’t endorse in primaries, but because the direction of the state Supreme Court hinges on the outcome of this spring’s election, it’s important that the strongest candidate to challenge the deep-pocketed Roggensack emerges from next Tuesday’s primary.
Fallone is a remarkably well-rounded candidate who would come to the court well prepared to deal with the complex and diverse issues that it must address. And he would come without strings attached.
Ed Fallone has our endorsement in the Feb. 19 primary.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.