— From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
With the retirement of state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, Gov. Scott Walker has an opportunity to set an example for how justices are selected for Wisconsin’s highest court. He should seize it.
Instead of doing what governors of both parties have done for years — picking a loyal party member — Walker should name a bipartisan commission, perhaps with the help of the state bar association, that could vet worthy applicants and present a slate of highly qualified candidates from which the governor could choose.
The commission should consist primarily of distinguished jurists whose primary interest would be selecting the best person for the bench. Judicial experience and sound judgment should be the measuring sticks, not what the candidate has done for a party.
The commission should keep in mind the partisan nature of state politics and the fact that Republicans now control all three branches of state government. It should identify candidates who come as close as possible to the nonpartisan ideal.
Sixteen states use a system akin to the so-called Missouri Plan or merit plan to select their supreme court justices. Under the plan, first adopted in Missouri in 1940, a nonpartisan commission reviews candidates for a judicial vacancy. The commission then sends to the governor a list of candidates considered best qualified. The governor then has 60 days to select a candidate from the list. If the governor does not make a selection within 60 days, the commission makes the selection.
Such a move by Walker would be a big step toward removing the court from the political games and big money that has tainted Wisconsin’s Supreme Court elections.
Over the long term, it’s a plan the state should consider adopting. But the governor doesn’t have to wait for a constitutional amendment. The constitution stipulates that the governor name a successor. It doesn’t say how.
We thank state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser for his years of public service; he leaves the bench July 31. Walker should use Prosser’s retirement to set an example that would in the long term benefit the state and the court by naming a nonpartisan commission to offer him the best candidates rather than the most loyal candidates.