February 19, 2009
Judges And Politics
A report from today's TwinCities.com, courtesy of the North Dakota Supreme Court web page, on a federal district court decision concerning political activities of judges:
Wisconsin judges can join political parties, endorse partisan candidates for office and solicit campaign donations after a federal judge struck down rules prohibiting those activities.
In a decision released Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb found the rules do little to advance an independent judiciary and violate judges' First Amendment rights to free speech.
Wisconsin Judicial Commission Executive Director Jim Alexander said he was disappointed and consulting with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on whether to appeal. The rules can't be enforced in the meantime.
Observers said the decision will open the door for parties to get more involved in judicial elections and make it easier for judges to raise campaign cash. They predicted that most judges, however, would not join parties.
The decision might accelerate the state's trend toward expensive, special-interest-fueled, nonpartisan-in-name-only judicial campaigns, said Mike McCabe, of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
"It's one more way that our judicial system will be heading down a path that I think ultimately only serves to undermine public confidence," said McCabe, whose group advocates campaign finance reform.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is running for re-election in April, said she would not join a party or personally raise money because she doesn't want to raise questions about her fairness.
"I have First Amendment rights, but I don't have to fully exercise them if I don't want to" she said.
Note that there is a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that will address the disqualification implications of donations to judicial campaigns. (Mike Frisch)
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