Assembly Democrats will introduce legislation to take politics out of Judicial Commission appointments
Serious reforms needed to curb Republican
abuses of power and restore judicial integrity
MADISON – Assembly Democrats announced today that they are introducing a bill designed to curb abuses of power related to appointments to the state Judicial Commission. The legislation comes in response to new revelations that candidates’ political leanings appear to have played a significant role in the governor’s recent appointments to the Commission.
During an investigation into the conduct of state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a former Prosser aide told Gov. Walker’s staff he had found candidates for the Commission who were “fiercely conservative” and “will never wimp out.” The governor made the appointments the next day without even interviewing the candidates.
The bill being introduced would give the non-partisan Government Accountability Board the authority to appoint all nine Judicial Commission members. Currently, the governor appoints five members and the state Supreme Court appoints four.
“This latest development continues a pattern of partisan power grabs, violating the public trust and undermining our Wisconsin values,” Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said. “Giving a non-partisan board control over this appointment process will ensure the integrity of our courts is not compromised.”
In the past year and a half, the actions of numerous elected officials within our legal system have raised serious ethical questions. That includes the governor starting a legal defense fund and refusing to disclose its donors, a Supreme Court Justice receiving free legal advice and refusing to recuse himself from cases involving those attorneys and a top Republican lawmaker reluctantly withdrawing from a voter ID lawsuit after he received free legal advice and the GAB called his participation a conflict of interest.
“Though Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans have conducted much of their business this session behind closed doors with secrecy oaths and limited public input, the issue in this case is not a lack of transparency,” Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) said. “It’s a matter of the governor abusing his power – and blatantly out in the open. The appearance of impropriety in this case demands that we take strong action to regain the people’s trust and protect the impartiality of our judicial system.”
In February, Assembly Democrats introduced “Restoring Integrity,” a package of ethics legislation designed to reverse the worst power abuses of Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans and restore integrity to all branches of Wisconsin government. Included were comprehensive reforms to restore fairness, impartiality and public trust in Wisconsin’s courts. Democrats plan to re-introduce a version of the package next session with legislation specifically designed to remove politics from Judicial Commission appointments.
“As we’ve seen recently, a partisan appointment process may lead people to believe their government is not working for them. It is important that we do everything we can to assure an independent Judicial Commission,” Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) said. “It is essential that we re-establish Wisconsin’s proud history of a government that serves the best interests of our citizens, not our elected officials.”