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Friday, April 4, 2008

It happened in Wisconsin; will it happen here?

The hard-fought battle for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ended this week with a win by a little known county judge.

On Tuesday, Michael Gableman defeated incumbent justice Louis Butler, the state’s first black high court jurist, in an election that is being touted by many as a tragedy and a sign of how far special interest groups will go to gain control of the court.

It was a close race, with Gableman squeaking by with 51 percent of the vote, but it was still a victory -- the second in two years for conservatives who have criticized the Wisconsin court as antibusiness and activist. Gableman’s win will likely shift the leaning of the court from liberal to conservative.

The race has been widely publicized because of its negativity and cost.

“The combination of the money, the tenor, the disrespect for facts and the racially charged nature of the campaign makes it one of the true low points around the country for judicial elections,” said James Sample, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“It's certainly going to join the ranks of the worst examples nationally of negative court races,” agreed Jesse Rutledge, deputy director of Justice at Stake, a national group dedicated to keeping courts fair and impartial.

It is exactly this kind of judicial race that many members of Minnesota’s legal community are taking steps to avoid. The changes to our judicial canons have a lot of people worried that special interests and big money will begin seeping into our elections like they did in Wisconsin and many other states around the country. To that end, a bill was introduced in the Legislature this session that would alter our current method of selecting judges, although it appears unlikely to go very far in this session.

I don’t know the solution -- the Legislature and the voters will have to figure it out -- but I certainly don’t want to see what just took place in our border state happen here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post makes it sound like the "special interests" were only on one side of this election. And there is little doubt from your sources and the way you framed the issues who the "bad guys" were.

I could point out a number of other deficiencies with your "reporting," but perhaps you could post the Wall Street Journal editorial on this same election to provide a little more balanced coverage. Since your post was really an opinion piece, another perspective may be helpful (especially to our legislators).

Thank you.