Editorial: 'Rethink Electing Justices' After WI Ad

A bombshell of an attack ad in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race is causing more shock waves.

“It’s time to rethink electing justices,” declared a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial today.

The editorial was headlined, “A misleading ad,” and it said the campaign spot attacking Justice David Prosser “should be Exhibit A for why electing state Supreme Court justices is a bad idea.”

An editorial in the National Review Online, meanwhile, denounced the ad and appealed for supporters of Justice Prosser to make political donations to certain third-party groups, saying conservatives nationwide ought to “make this campaign their own.”

The attack ad by the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee accused Justice Prosser, when he was a prosecutor in the late 1970s, of failing to aggressively investigate sex abuse allegations against a Catholic priest (see Gavel Grab). The Journal Sentinel editorial, after exploring details of the ad’s claims,  faulted the ad as misleading.

The editorial went on to suggest that Justice Prosser has become “the target of the kind of advertising that he and two other Supreme Court justices last year declined to condemn.” That ethics case involved Justice Michael Gableman (see Gavel Grab for background). The editorial concluded:

“Prosser’s opponent in the April 5 election, JoAnne Kloppenburg, should disavow this ad as well. And the state of Wisconsin should think again about whether the election of Supreme Court justices – which can lead to these kinds of abuses – still makes sense. We don’t think it does.”

In the candidates’ final debate,  Justice Prosser talked about some of his rulings and the ways that he said they benefited Milwaukee businesses and taxpayers. Kloppenburg contended the judge’s remarks were inappropriate in a contest for the court, according to a Journal Sentinel article.

Justice Prosser branded his challenger as a “very liberal Democrat” and “way out on the fringe.”

Kloppenburg accused Justice Prosser, a former Republican legislator, of having a “partisan approach” to judging.

The National Review editorial  denounced the attack ad as “shameful libel.” It encouraged the judge’s backers to donate to the Wisconsin Club for Growth or Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, while providing online links for making the contributions.

Both Justice Prosser and challenger Kloppenburg have received public funding for their campaigns, under a new state law for public funding of judicial elections.

The National Review editorial also discussed Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s successful legislation to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights. The law is being challenged in the courts. Accordingly, the April 5 court election is drawing increased attention.

“It is important that conservatives nationwide make this campaign their own,” the editorial said. It was headlined, “Bench Brawl in Wisconsin.”

“Every arrow in the quiver — court cases, judicial elections, recall, lawsuits, lies, libels, and brute thuggery — will be thrown at this case, along with lots of money derived from the union dues that state and local governments helpfully deduct from their employees’ paychecks on the unions’ behalf. Wisconsin may seem an unlikely battleground, but a line must be drawn, and this is the place to draw it.”

On the left, ActBlue, which calls itself the online clearinghouse for Democratic action, provides a means for donors to help the Greater Wisconsin Committee. That group, the ActBlue Web site states, “is engaged in a grassroots lobbying effort to raise awareness about questions concerning Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser’s impartiality.”

To learn more about the election, check out Gavel Grab.

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