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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Supreme Court Vacancy Expected to Yield Many Inquiries



People have begun applying for the impending vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justice David Prosser has announced plans to retire by the end of July. Gov. Walker may have a long list to choose from – along with plenty of advice.

The governor expects a mix of judges and attorneys to apply for the seat that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is leaving. Walker told WHBY Radio in Appleton that it will be, at least, a four-year job.

“I would imagine for an appointment that won’t stand for election until 2020 you’re probably going to have people coming out of the woodwork,” Walker says.

Prosser’s term is up in 2021, but under state law, Supreme Court appointees must stand for election sooner, if a year arrives when none of the seven seats are up for election. In this case, that’s 2020. Former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske says there are several reasons a jurist would want to move up the ladder.

“It’s obviously a deep honor to be on the court and for a lot of people they see it as the pinnacle of their legal career,” Geske says.

Geske predicts the governor will appoint a young conservative to replace Prosser and she hopes it’s one of the brightest and best jurists available. She says she worries about politicos storming the process.

“The role of the judge is to look at it legally, not politically and that political air that’s around the court has damaged its reputation, and the sense that people think that both sides have a fair shot when they go into the court,” Geske says.

“I think we are chasing away an awful lot of tremendous judges who really do belong on the Supreme Court but don’t want to go through what it takes to get there,” McCabe says.

What it takes, according to Mike McCabe, is aligning with powerful interest groups.  “Big interest groups who want to influence the court,” McCabe says. 

McCabe heads the government watchdog group Blue Jean Nation. While he worries about the intentions of those involved in the process, Rick Esenberg says partisan-leaning applicants and appointments are nothing new. Esenberg is president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He recalls 2004, when then Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle appointed left-leaning Louis Butler to the state supreme court. He served for four years.

“It shifted the ideological orientation of the court and that was significant in a number of the cases that were decided over the next several years,” Esenberg says.

Esenberg also predicts Gov. Walker will appoint a young conservative to the state high court. People have until May 19 to apply.

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