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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Elect JoAnne Kloppenburg to the Wisconsin Supreme Court

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We are wholeheartedly encouraging voters to elect Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg to the state Supreme Court. Kloppenburg has shown that she has the acumen and temperament that's necessary to help the state's highest court regain its status as an independent, impartial branch of the government.

It's absolutely crucial for a Supreme Court justice to be as fair and impartial as humanly possible. But now, during this turbulent political season, when it's highly likely that the legally dubious legislation pushed through by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature will be reviewed by the state Supreme Court, it's imperative that justices show their independence. We feel that Kloppenburg will review these legislative questions fairly and make her decision based on facts, not to give one party a political advantage. She is totally nonpartisan and has successfully worked for both Republican and Democratic attorney generals.

In contrast, we believe that Justice David Prosser—the former Republican Assembly speaker who faces Kloppenburg on April 5—would merely be a rubber stamp for the Walker administration's worst partisan abuses. A vote for Prosser is indeed a vote for Walker. Even his campaign has boasted that Prosser would protect the conservative majority on the court and complement the new Republican administration and Legislature. Unfortunately, we believe his campaign was telling the truth in claiming that Prosser would rule in favor of his fellow Republicans and their corporate backers and against the interests of the average citizen.

In his 12 years on the court, we've been disappointed by Prosser's failure to put his political career behind him. He is not the "moderate" or "centrist" that he portrays himself to be in his campaign. As he's revealed in his emails and interviews, his volatile temperament is not what we want in a Supreme Court justice. His refusal to apologize for calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "bitch" and threatening to "destroy" her is unacceptable. We wouldn't accept that behavior from a child, so we certainly shouldn't accept it from a state Supreme Court justice. He's acted as if his challengers in this race did not deserve to be on the ballot, that he did not deserve to be challenged in an election. It is becoming clear that Prosser thinks he's entitled to a lifetime appointment on the court, no questions asked.

In the past few years, we've watched with great disappointment how the Prosser-led conservative majority on the court has ruled again and again in favor of some of the wealthiest special interests in the state—namely, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)—as if the court was being held hostage by corporate special interests. Making matters worse, the Prosser-led conservative bloc voted to adopt campaign finance rules that had been written by WMC and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. These rules allow judges and justices to rule on cases that involve big contributors such as WMC and the Realtors, as well as to accept campaign donations from parties who have a case before them. According to Prosser, the four conservative justices voted to adopt the rules as written by these special interests because the conservatives feared that more public hearings on the matter would embarrass them. So they voted to reward their benefactors and shirk their duty to oversee a court system that's free of outside influence. That's unacceptable.

We watched with even more disappointment as the court failed to find a satisfying resolution to the ethics case of Justice Michael Gableman, himself a major WMC beneficiary and Prosser ally on the court. The harm that the Gableman case has caused to the court hasn't gone away, primarily because his fellow conservative justices couldn't do the right thing and admit that Gableman blatantly lied in his race-baiting campaign ad, that he knew that the ad contained a lie, and that he decided to air the ad anyway because he thought it would help him win the election. (He won by a slim 51%-49% margin.) If that isn't conduct unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice, then we don't know what is. Actually, we do. The vote that Prosser and two fellow conservative justices cast to exonerate Gableman is worse, since it tarnishes the entire court system and gives judicial candidates in other races a free pass to lie.

Fortunately, Prosser's challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, has a strong track record at the Department of Justice, where she primarily works in environmental law, and she's run a clean, positive campaign. Kloppenburg has welcomed the opportunity to reach out to voters who are usually overlooked during Supreme Court races because they aren't large donors. In doing so, Kloppenburg has shown that she is committed to working for the people's court, not the corporation-bought court that we've suffered with in the past few years. Vote for Kloppenburg to restore the Wisconsin Supreme Court's independence.