January 18, 2008
Up for review
By Bill Kraus
A cynic would say that if the newly named Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee has been criticized by both Charlie Sykes and Ed Garvey, it must be doing something right.
Actually, it hasn’t done much of anything yet beyond being announced as being open for business.
Its business is to restore non-partisanship and civility to judicial elections, starting with the current one for the Supreme Court and another for a seat on the Court of Appeals.
The assumption was that anything that made these elections about the open-mindedness and fitness of the candidates for these important offices and that constrained simplistic and offensive advertising about their credentials and beliefs would be a welcome development. And that the effort to accomplish this by the state Bar Association and the citizens appointed to the committee would be applauded.
Ed Garvey’s objections are about arrogating power and bypassing rules like open meetings, open records, etc. He also fears that the people who oppose full public funding of judicial campaigns (an idea recently endorsed by the current members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court) might use its existence to delay or sidetrack that initiative altogether.
Charlie Sykes, on the other hand, takes a shortcut to discrediting the idea by discrediting the members of the committee itself. He regards them (us) as too biased to be able to make dispassionate, disinterested judgments on the fairness of the advertising that the candidates will use or benefit from if outsiders promulgate it. Or perhaps he regards them (us) as not being biased in the direction he would prefer.
The committee has no political standing, no official power beyond what is implied by the connection to the state Bar Association. It will be effective only to the extent that its judgments are deemed appropriate enough by the press to print and broadcast and by the voters who agree with them and express similar views at the ballot box.
The experience in other places has been that the mere existence of such groups and the pledges they ask candidates to sign have made judicial campaigns less partisan, more about judicial qualities, less about hoped-for decisions, and dramatically less expensive. I, for one, applaud these results and hope we can achieve as much in Wisconsin.
If we can, it will be a step in the direction of giving the state what I hope the people—including Ed and Charlie—want: judges and justices who are fair and impartial “umpires” in the legal disputes they are called upon to adjudicate.
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