Electing judges — especially to the state’s highest court — is a deeply flawed process.
It’s like allowing the team with the most fans at a sporting event to pick the referees. Guess which way the close calls will go?
Wisconsin’s top judges should be appointed, based on merit, through a process that’s insulated from partisan politics as much as possible. Wisconsin’s best legal minds shouldn’t have to beg for money, court special interests and sling mud in political campaigns to become state Supreme Court justices.
The State Journal editorial board remains committed to advocating for a better system.
Nonetheless, voters have a choice to make Tuesday, and the most prepared, experienced and impressive judge on statewide ballots is JoAnne Kloppenburg.
The State Journal endorses her candidacy.
Kloppenburg has a compelling life story and strong legal background. She served overseas in the Peace Corps before graduating from UW Law School as a young mother. She worked as an assistant attorney general for more than two decades, handling constitutional, administrative and environmental law.
Kloppenburg has written hundreds of decisions as the presiding judge for Wisconsin’s 4th District Court of Appeals. Kloppenburg has taught and mentored law students. She’s volunteered as a mediator, tutor and youth sports coach.
When questioned about complicated and controversial legal issues, she confidently and intelligently responds with a calm and thoughtful demeanor. Kloppenburg also is a good listener and can point to cases where she ruled against unions and other groups that back her campaign.
Based on her past political donations and affiliations, Kloppenburg is the more liberal candidate in this race that’s supposed to be nonpartisan. And her opponent, Rebecca Bradley, is the more conservative contender, with ties to Republicans and business interests.
Awash in money and politics, Wisconsin’s high court elections virtually require both candidates to woo one partisan side or the other to have a shot at winning.
Yet Kloppenburg seems to better understand the need for an open mind and independence. She also says she’s learned a lot about the concerns and expectations of the public by traveling to every corner of the state to speak with a wide variety of citizens.
That’s an opportunity her opponent hasn’t fully embraced. For example, Bradley refused to meet with newspaper editorial boards across Wisconsin to discuss her campaign, which prevented readers from learning more about her background and record. Bradley is relying more on shallow political ads to try to win over voters.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has fast-tracked Bradley’s career, appointing her three times in three years to three successive judicial posts, including the state’s high court last October. That’s a rapid ascent from private practice.
Justice Bradley may be a talented lawyer and promising legal mind, but Kloppenburg offers Wisconsin a longer and more diverse record of accomplishment. Kloppenburg has shown she can be fair and tough. She’s more accessible and transparent.
Kloppenburg is the best choice for Wisconsin Supreme Court in Tuesday’s election.