The rough-and-tumble world of judicial politics

As some of you know, there’s a rather brutal Wisconsin Supreme Court campaign under way involving incumbent Justice Louis Butler and Judge Michael Gableman of the Burnett County Circuit Court. The election takes place on Tuesday, April 1, and things are downright incendiary.

Having spent the first forty-five years of my life in Ohio, another state in which judges are are chosen via head-to-head elections, I can say with some confidence that state supreme court races ain’t what they used to be. In fact, such elections were true yawners once upon a time.

Then came tort “reform.” Chambers of commerce, manufacturers’ associations, insurance companies and various front groups pretending to represent concerned citizens found that, for surprisingly little money, they could purchase corporate legislation that severely restricted access to the civil justice system and severely restricted recovery for those who could obtain access. Result: the proponents of such legislation keep more of their treasure.

The fly in state tort “reform” legislation ointment was state courts. Most state constitutions (not Colorado’s, sad to say) confer a right to trial by jury in civil cases. Some state supreme courts, though by no means all, take those provisions — along with equal protection, due process and separation of powers principles — quite seriously. Result: in some states, components of tort “reform” legislation get shot down as unconstitutional.

Excising that fly from the precious, precious ointment of tort “reform” involves stacking the state supreme court with “pro-business” jurists, i.e., judges who aren’t really judges at all but rather business interest hacks. In states with head-to-head judicial elections, that essentially means buying supreme court seats.

And oh, how the money and shit do fly.

How do you convince the electorate to throw out an incumbent supreme court justice with an exemplary record of public service and qualifications on top of qualifications?

You lie. You lie and lie and lie.

The insurance industry and chambers of commerce care not a suppurating boil on a baboon’s left buttock about crime. They care about money, making it and keeping it. But, so they figure, the average voter cares a great deal about crime. That’s your hot button issue right there! Wanna defeat a sitting supreme court justice? Spend millions on advertising that portrays the incumbent as “soft on crime.”

So it is in the Wisconsin race. Various special interest groups and online Republican howler monkeys are advancing the contention that Justice Butler “voted in favor of criminals” in some sixty percent of cases coming before the Wisconsin Supreme Court during his tenure.

Unsurprisingly, the contention is bullshit. But exposing bullshit as bullshit is much easier said than done in many cases. The requisite effort generally ranges from herculean to heroic, and not many are willing to travel that road.

Enter my main man illusory tenant, whose outstanding blog is pretty much “all Butler-Gableman all the time” these days. I highly recommend that all y’all Wisconsinites tune in and enjoy the show as iT dissects, exposes and summarily executes every lie that falls from the dissembling pens of the Gableman campaign and its odious allies, including but not limited to the 60% claim.

Few have both the willingness and the mad, mad skills needed to perform such a valuable service. Fortunately for Wisconsinites, iT is one of those few.

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  • […] in the great state of Wisconsin. The Louis Butler – Michael Gableman race, previously discussed here, has draw much attention (along with several million dollars of tort “reform” attack ad […]

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