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Proposal to Limit WI Justices' Term Might Backfire

Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says a single 16-year term for state Supreme Court justices would not address the issue of money in politics.
Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says a single 16-year term for state Supreme Court justices would not address the issue of money in politics.
July 10, 2013

MADISON, Wis. - In response to ethics complaints and the drama of interpersonal turmoil among the state's Supreme Court justices, the state Bar of Wisconsin has proposed a single, 16-year term for the justices. No other state has such a limitation, which the state Bar hopes will be introduced in the Legislature this fall.

The proposal does not deal with some very important issues, said Mike McCabe of the nonpartisan watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

"That doesn't address the issue of money in politics; it doesn't address the conflicts of interest that justices have when they rule on cases involving big campaign donors; it doesn't deal with the core problems that are creating dysfunction on the court," McCabe said.

McCabe's group has long sought to expose the problems of massive amounts of money being spent on political campaigns. He pointed to the 2007 campaign of Justice Annette Ziegler as a watershed, when 5.8 million dollars was spent, and said the Justice Gableman race two years later saw even higher political ad spending.

McCabe predicted a very real chance that limiting justices to a single term of 16 years, meaning they would stand for election only once, could well result in even higher spending on political ads.

"There's going to be no restraint on special-interest groups trying to go in and control the makeup of the court, and if you just have one shot at influencing the court's composition, you've got to believe these interest groups are going to be waiting at the starting gate, trying to influence that one election," he warned.

Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are nonpartisan candidates, but can easily be identified as conservative or liberal. McCabe said more people are beginning to realize the corrupting effect of so much money being spent in political campaigns, but criticized this proposal for doing nothing to address that issue.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI