The smell of corruption: we’re getting used to it

In their strongest editorial in a long, long time the State Journal has changed our mind about one of their signature issues — appointing rather than electing Wisconsin Supreme Court judges… not that outside opinions mean anything to the Governor or the majority in the legislature at this time.

The Journal brings a brutal cynicism to the discussion today from their first words

She doesn’t have a chance, of course.

“She” being state Rep. Kelda Roys who is calling for Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s removal by the legislature because of his ethical lapses. The lapses are very real, but the Journal reminds us from the get-go that it doesn’t matter; there’s no chance of ousting Gableman with the Republican majority in the legislature. It’s frustrating but brutally honest. Mere ethics violations mean nothing to our current, happily corrupt conservative majority. And if it were all reversed with an ethically-challenged, liberal-leaning jurist and a Democratic majority, we’re sure it would be the same. Removal requires a 2/3 vote in both chambers.

But the Journal continues, what if Gableman were removed, just hypothetically speaking. Then what?

…then Republican Gov. Scott Walker would quickly and unilaterally appoint a conservative replacement who would serve for years on the high court, becoming a powerful incumbent, before facing election.

And that’s true. Scott Walker would immediately pick a new political hack jurist for the Supreme Court. It’s a fairly devastating point. It’s true. Even if one corrupt jurist were removed (say, by magic), we have a pure ideologue in the Governor’s chair who would happily replace him with someone just as bad. The State Journal doesn’t use language quite so strong, but they don’t need to; we understand.

So, as a purely hypothetical fix for this problem, empowering an independent, nonpartisan group to pick a pool of jurists, and then forcing the governor (saint or sinner) to pick from that pool would be an improvement, preventing a governor from fulfilling his or her most partisan instincts. Of course, for the moment, this is purely hypothetical, because — just like Kelda Roys’ call to remove Gableman — it doesn’t stand a chance.

Our objection to this proposal in the past has always centered on the idea that every bad thing you can say about our money-soaked Supreme Court elections can also be said about ALL of our elections. That’s not only true, but ever more obvious in the wake of Citizens United. It’s is our fundamental political problem. Money dominates who gets elected and stays elected.  From the Sunlight Foundation:

In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364.

Those of us donating ten or twenty or thirty-thousand dollars (in every 2-year cycle)… now those are important players. Those of us who go to political fundraisers where the suggested donation is $5000 or more?  Those people are the players. But let’s be honest about it, there’s only so much time in the day. Our representatives need to raise money and they prioritize whom they meet with. Is it even slightly surprising that the wealthy receive first attention, and from both parties?

It’s not at all clear how we turn this around. But there’s a quote circulating recently

Of course you choose the lesser of two evils; that way you get less evil.

And IN THAT CONTEXT, doing something to rescue the Wisconsin Supreme Court from the political money race would be a good thing. We’re surprised to say it, but we award the State Journal editorial an unusual Type II Surprisingly Correct designation today.