Wisconsin Supreme Court election is TuesdayNext Tuesday, April 5, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls to elect one of seven justices to the state Supreme Court. The incumbent, David Prosser Jr., is challenged by Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Next Tuesday, April 5, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls to elect one of seven justices to the state Supreme Court.
The incumbent, David Prosser Jr., is challenged by Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Justices are elected in statewide elections to 10-year terms. According to the Wisconsin Blue Book 2009-2010, the salary for a Supreme Court justice is $144,495.
Kloppenburg, Madison, is an assistant attorney general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. She has been with the DOJ for 21 years. Her website is www.kloppenburgforjustice.com.
Prosser Jr., Appleton, was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998 and then elected to a 10-year term in 2001. His campaign website is www.justiceprosser.com.
These are the two candidates’ responses to questions posed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
What educational, professional, civic and community experiences have you had that you believe qualify you for this elective office?
Kloppenburg: I’ve been a litigator and prosecutor at Wisconsin’s Department of Justice since 1989, serving under attorneys general from both parties. My legal experience includes constitutional, appellate, civil litigation, environmental prosecution, administrative and some criminal law. I’ve argued numerous cases in circuit courts, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
I graduated with honors from UW Law School (1988), Yale (BA 1974), Princeton (MA 1976). I was a law clerk for Chief Judge Barbara Crabb and interned for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. I’ve taught at the UW Law School since 1990 and volunteered in many legal and community venues
Prosser: My 12 years as a Supreme Court Justice are my most obvious qualification. I have written 132 majority opinions and participated in 900 published decisions. Eighteen former state bar presidents and many judges have endorsed me based on my performance.
In addition, I have worked at all levels of government and in all three branches of government: law teacher (UW, IUPUI); staff attorney, Office of Criminal Justice; administrative assistant to congressman; elected district attorney; 18 years in Wisconsin State Assembly; Assembly speaker; tax appeals commissioner; uniform laws commissioner. This breadth of experience is unprecedented.
Describe in lay terms the duties of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. What types of cases are heard by the court?
Kloppenburg: The Wisconsin Supreme Court is an appellate court with the power to determine what appeals it hears from any court in Wisconsin. It can also take “original actions,” cases that have not started in lower courts.
The court takes about 100 of the thousands of cases that begin in Wisconsin courts each year. About 75 percent of the cases are civil; about 25 percent are criminal.
Supreme Court justices decide the most important legal disputes and set rules for state courts and lawyers. It is critical that Wisconsin residents are confident that justices are independent, impartial decision-makers, unaligned with special interests.
Prosser: Most cases begin in circuit court where a judge or jury hears factual evidence and makes a decision. The losing party may appeal, pointing to some error in procedure or deficiency in the applicable law and asking for a different result or chance to start over.
The Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in Wisconsin. It hears important civil and criminal appeals on legal issues that will affect many people beyond the immediate litigants. It also makes rules affecting courts and the practice of law, supervises and disciplines attorneys and judges and works to obtain funding for the judiciary.
What procedural or legislative changes might improve the operations of the court?
Kloppenburg: It is imperative Wisconsin residents have confidence in the courts as impartial and independent. That is why public financing for Supreme Court candidates who limit fundraising and spending is so important.
The effect of the law on people’s lives is profound and powerful. American democracy is built upon our willingness to accept the decisions courts reach as lawful, whether we agree with those decisions or not. The huge spending, the attack ads and partisan-style tactics in Supreme Court campaigns undermine the confidence our residents must have in courts and justices whose power and responsibility are so great.
Prosser: The Supreme Court hears and decides many controversial issues. The members of the court have strong views. Disagreements among justices have always existed, are inevitable and not inappropriate.
What is essential, however, is that disagreements are handled with collegiality and mutual respect that recognizes the constitutional role of the chief justice and the role of other justices and encourages all justices to participate and contribute to the betterment of the whole. Public squabbling demeans the court. To assure that the court achieves its maximum potential, we should seek an objective evaluation by neutral, impartial observers and experts.
How will you as a Supreme Court justice advocate for the independence of the courts?
Kloppenburg: The judicial, legislative and executive branches of government are co-equal. There must be checks and balances for democracy to work. This election offers voters a very clear choice when it comes to independence.
My opponent has said he has “the most partisan background” of any current justice. His campaign said that re-electing him would protect “the conservative judicial majority” on the court which would then be a “complement” to the new Republican governor and Legislature. It is wrong for judges to pre-judge cases based on political ideology. I will decide cases on the law and the facts.
Prosser: Supreme Court justices should decide cases based on the facts and the law. They should not sit as ideologues and attempt to politicize the judiciary to advance a particular point of view. Justices who act with consistent impartiality are seldom subject to outside pressure.
I have never felt outside pressure to decide a case. The Supreme Court serves as a check on abuses and excesses by other branches and “interests.” Judicial independence assures that the court is able to perform this vital function, irrespective of who controls the other branches or how powerful the “interests” might be.