— From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Just because former Gov. Tommy Thompson did it, doesn’t mean Gov. Scott Walker should.
What Walker should do instead is either leave open the seat left vacant by the tragic death of state Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks or at the very least appoint someone who will pledge not to run in the April election for that seat.
Given the importance of incumbency in an election —especially in a low-turnout spring election —Walker would be giving an unfair advantage to any candidate he appointed to fill out Crooks’ term.
Crooks’ term is up come April, and the justice had said that after 20 years on the court, he was not going to be a candidate this time around. His untimely death on Sept. 21 left a big hole — he was a respected and esteemed justice. But we’re not convinced that filling that hole is necessary right now.
Ed Fallone, a one-time candidate for the court, said in a letter on the Journal Sentinel’s editorial page that “there is simply no urgency to appoint a new justice for the remainder of the term. Given the current ideological divide on the court, a 3-3 vote in a particular case is unlikely to occur. Should a tie vote occur, the case could be easily held over for re-argument the next term.” We concur.
But Walker said Tuesday that he wants to appoint someone to fill out the term. “The Supreme Court still has an active caseload going ahead into the fall and beyond, and I’m going to make sure the people of Wisconsin are well served,” he said.
Walker also said he’ll use the same criteria he uses for judicial appointments — integrity and knowledge of law and the constitution.
“I want someone who understands that the sole responsibility of the judiciary is to uphold the constitution and those laws duly enacted within it,” Walker told reporters following a visit to La Casa de Esperanza charter school in Waukesha Tuesday.
And he said that he will consider appointing one of the three people who had already announced their candidacies for the spring election. Those candidates are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald and Court of Appeals judges JoAnne Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley. A primary will be held in February and the general election on April 5.
“Whether it’s someone who is running or not, I’m going to put the best person on the bench right now,” Walker said.
That’s a great sentiment, but Walker is glossing over the politics of the appointment. No doubt, Walker would appoint someone with solid conservative credentials, most likely Bradley. That’s only natural. A Democrat governor would want to appoint someone in agreement with his or her thinking. Presidents do this all the time. But that appointment, and Walker knows this full well, would give Bradley or whoever else it is a big advantage in the spring election.
Soon after Walker’s announcement, Donald and Kloppenburg said they wouldn’t apply for the appointment, with Donald saying he didn’t believe the governor should put anyone on the court who plans to run for the seat next year.
The governor did point out through messages posted on Twitter that Thompson appointed two justices to the high court just before elections. Those appointees — Janine Geske and Diane Sykes — went on to win their elections, in 1994 and 2000. Which only demonstrates the point: Incumbency may not have been the deciding factor in those races, but we’re betting it helped.
Best would be if Walker doesn’t make an appointment. But if he feels compelled to do so, he should appoint someone who won’t be a candidate. Maybe the state should change the way it selects justices; we’ve argued that. But right now, Wisconsin voters still make that choice — and Walker should allow them to make that choice without giving an advantage to one candidate.