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The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ugly politics, explained

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been plagued by ugly politics for the past 25 years, long before Janet Protasiewicz was elected. This raises the question of whether voters should even be responsible for picking justices. Over the years, the court has become deeply divided along ideological lines, with conservatives and liberals clashing over a wide range of issues. This division has often spilled over into personal attacks and a disregard for judicial norms and traditions. One of the key factors that has contributed to this toxic atmosphere is the increasing politicization of judicial elections in Wisconsin. Justices are elected to the court through partisan elections, where they are endorsed and supported by political parties and interest groups. This system has led to an influx of money and outside influence in judicial campaigns. Special interest groups, both conservative and liberal, have poured millions of dollars into these elections, leading to a high-stakes, winner-takes-all mentality. Judicial candidates are often forced to align themselves with one side or the other, which brings with it a certain set of expectations and obligations. This partisan pressure can make it difficult for justices to remain impartial and make decisions based solely on the law. The negative consequences of this politicized system are readily apparent on the court. Personal and political feuds have led to a breakdown in collegiality and a lack of respect among the justices. The court's decisions have become predictable, with justices more interested in advancing their own ideological agenda than in upholding the law. This dysfunction has not gone unnoticed by the public. Trust in the Wisconsin Supreme Court has eroded over the years, with many viewing it as just another political entity, rather than an independent and impartial arbiter of justice. The question then becomes: what can be done to address these issues and restore faith in the court? One potential solution is to move away from partisan judicial elections and adopt a different method for selecting justices. Several states, including Iowa, have implemented a merit-based selection process, where a nominating commission recommends candidates based on their qualifications and experience. These candidates are then appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature. This system helps to insulate the judiciary from partisan politics and ensures that justices are selected based on their merit and qualifications, rather than their political affiliations. It also provides for a more diverse and representative bench, as the nominating commission is tasked with considering a wide range of candidates. Another option is to impose stricter campaign finance regulations on judicial elections. By limiting the amount of money that can be spent and banning outside groups from directly supporting or opposing candidates, it may be possible to reduce the influence of special interests and create a more level playing field. Additionally, efforts should be made to foster a more respectful and civil discourse among the justices. Supreme Court justices are expected to be impartial and respectful of one another's viewpoints, regardless of their personal disagreements. This can be achieved through training programs and initiatives that promote professionalism and collegiality. The current state of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is a reflection of the broader political climate in the country. Polarization and tribalism have infiltrated all levels of government, including the judiciary. However, it is not too late to reverse this trend and restore integrity and respect to the court. The people of Wisconsin deserve a Supreme Court that is independent, impartial, and above partisan politics. It is time to reevaluate the current system of electing justices and explore alternative methods for selecting and appointing qualified individuals to the bench. By doing so, we can begin to repair the damage done and ensure that justice is truly served in the state of Wisconsin.

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