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Supreme Court

Justice Michael Gableman's first term on the state Supreme Court expires in 2018. He is not running again, so there will be an open seat on the high court. A primary election is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Wisconsinites know that when a judge has close personal, business or political ties to an individual or an organization, then that judge should not decide cases involving the individuals or organizations.

Unfortunately, the majority of justices on the state Supreme Court do not recognize this basic standard of justice.

As Common Cause in Wisconsin notes, “Wisconsin is considered among the four worst states in the nation in terms of the strength of our recusal standards for judges receiving campaign contributions.”

There’s a reason for this, as Common Cause explains: “Wisconsin's current state recusal ‘non-standard’ was written by an ultra-conservative special-interest group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, in 2010. It essentially states that judges may decide for themselves whether to recuse in a case involving a donor or special-interest group who contributed to them!”

Fifty-four retired Wisconsin judges have petitioned the state Supreme Court, asking that it establish responsible standards for recusal by judges who accepted campaign contributions from plaintiffs and defendants in cases they are hearing. By a 5-2 vote, the justices rejected this petition.

The justices acted without holding a public hearing or accepting serious input from Wisconsinites.

That’s shameful.

So Common Cause is seeking to address the issue that the court has neglected. At events around the state — which began Monday in Green Bay — Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the American Association of University Women are seeking to open a public dialogue on essential questions of ethics. Events will also be held in Madison and Milwaukee.

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Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck says: “With a Wisconsin Supreme Court election coming up in early 2018 to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, it is imperative that Wisconsinites fully understand and raise their voices about this issue — which will be prominent in that election.”

We agree. And we encourage Wisconsinites to attend these forums. To learn more, contact the Common Cause in Wisconsin office at 608-256-2686 or email

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