Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It's a Sad Day for Wisconsin Politics, (and for your state, too)

Yesterday was election day here in Wisconsin.

The biggest contest of the day was for our state Supreme Court. In theory, supreme court justices are supposed to be non-partisan and they do not run as democrat or republican. However, in Wisconsin as is happening in other states with electable SC justices, big business is buying the court. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Club for Growth along with the NRA and others threw several million dollars behind a candidate who can best be described as a guy who makes Clarence Thomas seem like a beacon of legal scholarship. In other words, the guy is dumb.

Last week Michael Gableman (conservative) and Louis Butler (moderate incumbent) had a debate. Gableman's every utterance sounded like it was scripted by Rush Limbaugh. He continued to characterize Butler as a 'judicial activist' and a 'liberal ideologue with a political agenda' though Butler made it clear that it was his job to apply the law regardless of his own personal opinion, while at the same time Gableman kept saying that his conservative worldview definately helps him to decide cases.


Further, Gableman ran a 'Willie Horton' style campaign and blatantly distorted facts in cases decided by Butler. One would believe, from Gableman's campaign, that our state Supreme Court presides over nothing but criminal cases. The truth is far distant.

What the Wisonsin Manufacturers and Commerce and all other right wing support for Gableman knew is that they need their guy in there to shield big business from tort cases. In other words, suck it little guy.

While it is sad for us, I understand that this is another front in the republican war on America. Big business is dismantling consumer rights throughout the country by buying seats on state supreme courts. And because we all see only what is in front of us, we don't really notice what's going on elsewhere.

John Grisham has a new novel out called The Appeal. I read in Monday's paper that it eerily parallels our own state race. And as it turns out, in Grisham's novel the good guy loses too. From a customer review at Amazon:

It is obvious that John Grisham is up to more than spinning a fine yarn in this, his most recent legal novel. A former practicing trial lawyer in Mississippi, the setting for most of the story, as well as a member of the state legislature, Grisham is apparently, and quite rightly, concerned about a recent phenomenon relative to state supreme courts. As the novel illustrates, this is the increasing tactic of large business and ideological groups sweeping into various states and unloading large resources in elections for state supreme court justices--still not an uncommon way in which they are selected. Some states have adopted the so-called "Missouri system" where an expert panel recommends a slate of names to the governor, who must nominate one of the names, the individual serves a short term, and then stands for retention on a non-partisan basis. A simple majority of yes votes suffices to keep the judge in office for a full term.

But in Mississippi, and a number of other states, anyone can run in a competitive election for a seat on the state court. I expect this is particularly a hot issue in Mississippi, since it is the headquarters for gigantic tort recoveries in individual and class action suits returned by sympathetic juries. Grisham's previous novel, "King of Torts," was full of insights on this phenomenon. In the novel, business and ideological groups dissatisfied with the state court's decisions combine to run a candidate they pick and believe will be sympathetic to their viewpoints in rendering decisions. The target is a female Justice, by no means super liberal or extreme by any measure--but that is before the millions of dollars invested in campaign propaganda distort her record. The novel is designed to exhibit several of the major problems with this system: the potential for extraneous "hot button" issues to be injected into the campaign; the disparity in funds between judges and interest/business groups seeking to dislodge them; will judges render decisions based upon what they feel voters will like?; could judges who receive financial support from groups ignore that fact when rendering decisions that impact upon them?; will this tactic emasculate the tort law system that has "cleaned up a lot of bad products and protected a lot of people"?

It sounds like a good book. I just don't think I have the stomach for it right now.


dguzman said...

I have noticed that a lot of elections for judiciary positions are dominated by republican money and far-right-wing philosophies. I watched Bush and Rove do it all the time in Texas, and now it's just par for the course nationwide.

I don't know that I'd have the stomach to read that book right now either. I'm having my own crisis of seeing too much over here too.

Splotchy said...

Argh... I'm sorry, Jess.

I wouldn't necessarily call it a Republican strategy, as much as a corporate one. Granted, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two, though many Democrats are sucking from the corporate teat as well.

I hate voting for judges in elections, I absolutely hate it. I know none of the candidates and I don't want to make a wrong decision based on utter ignorance.

It doesn't help that some candidates are having advertisements created to sway the electorate, but it doesn't surprise me.

I don't know that the Missouri system is any better (first time I have heard of it), but I know I wish the system as I know it was somehow better.

FranIAm said...

Frustrating, angering, depressing and oh so wrong.

It is the American way it seems!

Now you can see how that whole peace proposition thing gets complicated- quickly and easily.

Distributorcap said...

germany 1933
nuff said

Suzy said...

Yeah, I felt sick this morning. 10 years.

The whole thing with the referendum about the line-item veto disgusts me too. I don't think doing away with it is such a bad thing, but opponents make it sound as if it's something Jim Doyle cooked up in his underground labOratory, when in fact it was handed on a silver platter to the rube from Elroy, Tommy Thompson, who used it liberally and inappropriately. (Which inspired the best newspaper headline ever, in the Green Bay Press Gazette: Thompson's PenIs A Sword.")

Jess Wundrun said...

suzy what does it say that under Tommy the veto power was called "The Vanna White Veto" because he could strike letters from within words, and under Doyle it's "The Frankenstein Veto"?

I realize that the Vanna White veto was curbed under Thompson, as has this new veto power.

And of course Huebsch complains it didn't go far enough.

He'd change his mind in a second if the next guv is a republican. Which is why I held my nose and voted for it.