Electing Judges to the Supreme & Appeals Courts

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Electing Judges to the Supreme & Appeals Courts

March 26, 2020 - 17:01
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Remember learning about the three branches of government way back in your school days? There is the Legislative Branch that is elected by the people to make the laws. There is the Executive Branch led by the President, Governor, Mayor, or similar executive that runs the government by following the laws the legislature made. And there is the Judicial that makes sure the way the laws are legislated and the way the laws are executed comply with the Constitution of the United States and the individual state and related applicable laws. At the federal level the President appoints Judges to the Supreme Court and the various federal courts. In Wisconsin, the citizens elect the judges.

Earlier in March there was a presentation on “The Proper Role of the Courts” at the Americans for Prosperity office in La Crosse. A simple summary of the presentation would be “to interpret the law as written and uphold the Rule of Law based on the Constitution”. The Grassroots Engagement Director at that office commented “Politicians Disappear Policies Remain” which tells me that the likes or dislikes of individual politicians may come and go but the laws they make are much more permanent.

In April there will be an election for a ten-year term on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. It might be time for that oft-used cliché “This could be the most important election…” Incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly is being challenged by Dane Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky. Justice Kelly has established a record of adherence to the Constitution and Rule of Law; and has experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and litigator. Prior to his becoming a Justice on the Supreme Court he experienced being a lawyer before both the United States and Wisconsin Supreme Courts. As Supreme Court Justice, he recognizes he works for all the people of Wisconsin. He has been endorsed by Wisconsin Family Action PAC and Pro-Life Wisconsin PAC.

His opponent, Judge Jill Karofsky, is pushing social activism and will invoke her likes or dislikes as opposed to the Rule of Law. Judge Karofsky has compared getting an abortion to getting wisdom teeth removed. She also has said the Constitution allows limiting possession of firearms. Judge Karofsky has made less-than-positive comments about the Supreme Court and the Justices she wants to serve with. If Judge Karofsky wants to push social justice issues, favor certain ethnic or economic groups, or rewrite what the law says, then maybe she needs to run for the Legislature!

The Appeals Court’s primary function is to correct errors that occurred at the Circuit Court level. This court normally sits as a three-judge panel to dispose of cases on the merits. However, a single judge may decide certain categories of cases. No testimony is taken in the appellate court in Wisconsin. Decisions of this court are delivered in writing. Both candidates for Supreme Court in the April 2019 election were Appeals Court Judges.

There is an election for a six-year term for District Four of the Wisconsin Appeals Court; an election without competition as there is only one candidate. District Four includes La Crosse, Monroe, Jackson, and Clark and 20 other counties in the southwest part of the state and has five judges. This Court is located in Madison. The lone candidate is incumbent Judge Rachel A. Graham who was appointed to the position in 2019 by Governor Evers. Judge Graham is a UW-Madison Law School graduate and was in private practice when appointed.

There are many considerations in voting for or against an Appeals Court candidate; and some will vote for and others against for the very same reason. Since Judge Graham is the only candidate, she will win whether you vote for her or not; so you must decide if you are going to vote for her or leave that election blank. Since Judge Graham is a Governor Ever’s appointment, one can assume her outlook might be a little more liberal than others. This is certainly an opportunity missed for the conservatives to field a viable candidate, especially if the Appeals Court is considered the “farm team” for the Supreme Court! Madison might be a bit far for a judge from the Coulee Region to commute, but there are seven counties that border Dane County and one more in close proximity and one or more of these counties should have a qualified conservative circuit court judge that might have been interested. Pending an unforeseen appointment, the next election in District Four will be in 2022.

There is no election in District Three of the Wisconsin Appeals Court in 2020. District Three includes Buffalo, Trempealeau, Pepin, Clark and 31 other northern Wisconsin Counties stretching all the way to Green Bay. District Three has three judges and is located in Wausau. District Three’s next election for a six-year term is in 2021.

Remember to vote on or before April 7th. These judicial contests are only part of the Election Day process. Early voting is now in progress. No excuses – go vote!

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