The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently adopted a rule that a justice is not disqualified from a proceeding solely because his or her campaign received a lawful contribution, or because a group over which the justice has no control ran a campaign advertisement.
Some articles in the media have implied that past campaign contributions or independent advertisements caused the justices to vote in favor of that rule. Those articles have not presented the full story of the concerns that the court's rule addressed. Accordingly, they are misleading and deserve a response.
First, if a candidate for judicial office were to accept a campaign contribution in exchange for the promise to vote one way or another in a case, that is not a lawful contribution. The rule the court enacted would not apply in that circumstance.
Second, when a citizen votes in a judicial election, he or she exercises a right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Protecting the First Amendment rights of all voters to cast votes that could not later be cancelled by the acts of others was a primary concern of the court in the rule that was enacted.
Third, the vast majority of voters make no campaign contributions. They exercise their First Amendment right to vote in complete confidence that their votes will mean as much as voters who do make a campaign contribution.
I voted for the rule because of my concern that the citizens who elected justices were in danger of having their votes for judicial candidates cancelled, solely due to another person's lawful contribution or due to an independent advertisement over which the justice had no control.
Let me explain - if a person made a lawful campaign contribution and that caused the justice to be disqualified from deciding legal issues presented to the court, all of the other voters who chose that justice because they believed he or she was fair, independent and knowledgeable about the law would have their votes cancelled because of the justice's disqualification.
Furthermore, a campaign contribution could easily be used as a sword by someone who wanted to disqualify a justice, rather than by someone who supported the justice's election. In either case, the vast majority of the voters would have their votes in that election cancelled because the justice they voted for would be disqualified.
The rule that the court adopted addressed the concern that the votes of most citizens not be cancelled by the action of one person, if all that person did was to give a lawful campaign contribution.
I understand as an elected official I will not be able to please all the people all the time. However, I do take issue with those who report their disagreement with Supreme Court decisions as evidence of dishonesty of the justices who participated in them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The protection of every voter's First Amendment right to have his or her vote counted and not later be cancelled by the action of someone else was the driving force behind the decision.
Making the politically-correct decision in tough cases would be the easier choice, but the oath of judicial office that I took requires much more. It requires I do my best to uphold the First Amendment rights of all Wisconsin voters.
Roggensack was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2003.