janine geske
Janine Geske, a Marquette law professor and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, called this week for changing how high court members are selected.

Wisconsin has lost faith in its high court.

And there's little hope for improving Wisconsin's ugly, money-soaked Supreme Court elections.

So Janine Geske, a Marquette law professor and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, called this week for changing how high court members are selected.

"We need to at least look at whether there's a better way to do it," Geske told WISN-TV (Ch. 12) on Sunday's "Upfront with Mike Gousha."

"What's happened now is the candidates themselves have been drowned out by, I think, the independent ads and unfair and misleading ads," Geske said. "So maybe we ought to look at whether an appointed (high court) and a retention (vote) makes more sense."

She's right.

The latest Supreme Court election was the worst yet, with record spending by partisan groups and wild accusations that have tarred the top court no matter which candidate - Justice David Prosser or challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg - ultimately survives an expected recount.

The Oshkosh Northwestern also highlighted merit selection this week. It's just the latest Wisconsin newspaper to advocate for needed reform.

"It is no coincidence that the prevalence and dominance of brutal attack ads for a nonpartisan seat correspond with the breakdown in the civility and, ultimately, the legitimacy of the court," the Northwestern wrote on Sunday.

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Wisconsin must "seriously consider" merit selection, according to the newspaper. Merit selection relies on a citizen panel - insulated from politics - to draft a short list of the most experienced, respected and independent candidates for the state's high court. Then the governor must choose from the list. Some states also require sitting justices to face voters in retention elections at the end of their terms.

Retention elections are not ideal. But unlike judicial elections, they can't propel inexperienced partisans onto the top court. That's because retention elections only involve one candidate -

the incumbent. If voters don't want to keep the incumbent, the citizen panel puts together another list of qualified, highly regarded candidates that the governor must choose from.

"You want a judge who is going to look at each case and be willing to vote inconsistent with their supporters' position because it's the right thing to do under the law," Geske said on WISN-TV.

"It's not a representative body," she continued. "It's a check and balance on our other two branches of government. And if all we're doing is electing judges who are going to be Democratic and Republican - and when those issues come to the court, they cast the vote the way their supporters want them to - then we don't have (the) checks and balances."

The Legislature should start moving merit selection reform through the lengthy process required for a constitutional amendment. Voters would ultimately have the final say on any change.

Public financing of judicial campaigns won't work because of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that make it all but impossible to limit special interest spending.

Merit selection remains the best way to ensure an impartial, experienced and highly-respected Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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