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EDITORIAL: Making appointments

Ideally, every voter put serious thought into the state Supreme Court candidates’ qualifications before casting a ballot in the last election.

Of course, idealism and reality rarely shake hands.

Justice David Prosser’s and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg’s campaigns took off in the heat of protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to strip state unions of many collective-bargaining rights.

The majority of the 1,498,384 people who voted did so based on their opinion of Walker’s politics. The election was a referendum on the governor and a chance for those opposed to Walker to place another liberal on the bench.

That’s an embarrassing commentary on the standards to which the state’s constitution holds its highest officers.

Taking a seat at the state’s Supreme Court shouldn’t be about whose political machine spins the fastest or whose special interests fire the kill shot in a television ad. The Supreme Court, the idealist asserts, is above politics.

Once again, the idealist is wrong. Politics has a permanent seat on every bench.

But to embrace that reality by leaving the Supreme Court’s fate to armchair justices is to forsake the standards by which Wisconsinites are to be judged.

Wisconsin Supreme Court justices should be appointed based on merit. Two lawmakers said in July they would introduce legislation in September to do just that, and it’s time to follow through on that promise.

It’s the best way to guarantee the most qualified legal minds serve in the state’s most important legal positions.

Under the election system, that’s not the case.

“People who love the law and who don’t love politics — that’s the kind of person I would like to see on the bench,” Wisconsin Appellate Court Chief Judge Richard Brown said in July. “I submit to you that is not the kind of person on the bench today.”

Politics, partisan bickering and personal disputes won’t go away. There is no way for a panel of jurists to achieve complete objectivity and no way for a justice to stop being human.

But switching to appointments at least shows intent to find the best people for the job rather than the people best at manipulating voters.

It at least puts idealism and reality in the same room.


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