Limiting Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to a single 16-year term would help restore public confidence in a court whose image has been battered by increasingly savage political campaigns fueled by a rising tide of money, a special task force of attorneys says. The state Bar of Wisconsin panel wants to see a constitutional amendment introduced this fall to change the system that allows justices to run for unlimited 10-year terms, said Joe Troy, a former circuit judge who led an 18-month study that resulted in the proposal. “The campaigns have become so brutal,” Troy said. “The sitting justice is attacked and demeaned, and the challenger is attacked and demeaned. The public sees that and thinks we must not have very good justices.” The proposed term limits aren’t a cure-all, but they would help restore public trust in the system, Troy said. “No justice, once elected, would ever be elected again,” Troy said. “The perception that they are there serving the people (with money) who put them there, or they are worried about the next election, that’s just not going to happen.”
Constitutional amendments require passage in two consecutive Legislatures before going to the voters.
Troy said political leaders from both major parties objected to an earlier plan involving appointing justices, but so far they’ve been open-minded and intrigued by term limits.
Gov. Scott Walker, House Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, weren’t available for comment late Friday. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the plan could be promising.
Troy said members of the Supreme Court also have been briefed on the plan and have offered suggestions.
Former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske said term limits could be a good start to repairing the court’s reputation.
“My concern is the vast amount of money that is being spent and the way it’s being spent on ads that aren’t relevant to the duties and responsibilities of the job,” said Geske, a Marquette University law professor. “They take one opinion out of a justice’s whole career and that becomes the total issue in the campaign. This proposal would diminish that.”