On Tuesday the voters of Wisconsin changed the configuration of the State’s Supreme Court from liberal to conservative in a referendum vote to oust Justice Louis Butler. In a highly contested election, divided heavily between conservative business interest groups and public interest organizations, by a mere 20,000 votes, a liberal Democratic was removed from office and the Court will now have a 4-3 conservative majority.
The fiercely fought and costly ($4 million) election brings to light, once again, the issues involved in conducting judicial elections. Last year over $3.1 million dollars was spent by special interest groups to challenge yet another judicial election in Wisconsin. Elections of judiciary are the case in 39 States who elect some, if not all, of their appellate Judges.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in nationally recognized opinions: has recognized manufacturers’ liability in latex glove litigation; guarded patients from medical malpractice; and protected children from the problems associated with lead paint. The Court defined the standard for “enterprise liability” in an effort to guard the public from hazardous and toxic substances.
Private financing of judicial elections are problematic and bring to the forefront a need for review of the entire process to maintain the integrity of the judicial system. As Justice Butler remarked in his concession speech, "We cannot continue to see elections like last year 's and this year 's, and expect people to maintain their faith in our judicial system, " Butler said. "If we rob people of their faith in that system, we've robbed them of justice. "