The Baraboo (WI) News Republic last Monday had an article reporting on a proposal which a Wisconsin Bar Association task force hopes to introduce in the legislature this fall that would eliminate re-election campaigns for high court justices by limiting candidates to single, 16-year terms instead of the unlimited 10-year terms now permitted under the state’s constitution. Sixteen years is close to the average tenure of a Wisconsin justice in recent decades.
The proposal is the result of efforts started 18 months ago by the Bar’s task force in response to ethics complaints and interpersonal turmoil on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that have spilled into public view, and as the flow of money into elections has continued to grow.
“No state restricts its supreme court justices to a single term of specific length, according to the American Judicature Society, a nonprofit that advocates for judicial ethics and the appointment of judges whose qualifications have been endorsed their merit panels," the News Republic says. "According to data compiled by the society, three states appoint supreme court justices for life, but the 16 year-term would be longer than any set term of years in any of the other states. Three states have a mandatory retirement age of 70 for top court judges, but none forbid re-election or reappointment." Wisconsin & Kentucky are among 13 states where judicial candidates run for election without official ties to political parties; Ohio is one of nine states in which there are party affiliations involved.
The article also notes several other states searching for ways to make changes, specifically mentioning Ohio, where the chief justice, Maureen O’Connor in May offered a plan to remove political parties from the selection of judges and lengthen elected terms to restore public confidence that courts are independent.