State Bar Recommends Supreme Court Term Limits

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State Bar Recommends Supreme Court Term Limits

Premiere Date: 
July 11, 2013

This week, the State Bar of Wisconsin recommended term limits for justices.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

We now switch gears to Supreme Court term limits. A Wisconsin State Bar task force has recommended limiting Supreme Court justices to only one term, but extending that term from ten years to 16 years. That would eliminate reelection races for justices, which the panel says will make them more independent and improve relations within the court. The proposed constitutional amendment would need backing by two consecutive sessions of the legislature and approval from the public in a referendum. The task force says it is confident it can gain that support. Green Bay attorney Joe Troy is a member of that panel. He joins us now, and thanks very much for doing so.

Joe Troy:

Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Frederica Freyberg:

How, in your mind, would a 16-year term limit reduce the influence of campaign money for Supreme Court justices?

Joe Troy:

You know, it's not just the effect that it may have on the funding of campaigns. It is really more about the effect it will have on the Supreme Court and the public's perception of what their job is. The biggest change that this plan would bring about is that a justice will never again, once they are elected, have to, so to speak, hang their robe up and become a political candidate seeking support of interest groups and finances to run a reelection. And we think that that change alone will instill a better sense that we have an independent court that's acting out of a sense of their view of the law and the facts. And so it isn't designed to, or purported to, change financing. It's purported to change how the court is perceived and how the court functions once the justices are there.

Frederica Freyberg:

How would it improve relations on the court between the justices?  

Joe Troy:

It-- never again, once this plan would be implemented, would one justice have any interest in the future career of their fellow justices. And whether it is a very overt thing or it's a very subtle thing, the fact of the matter is that through the history of Wisconsin, the Supreme Court, not just recently, when there have been public rifts that have come to the public's attention, it has most frequently surrounded someone's reelection. I mean, it's very hard to work in a collegial, cooperate way with six other justices when the fact of the matter is is that several of your colleagues don't want you to be there in the future.

Frederica Freyberg:

Yeah. Well, what about the criticism of the term limit idea that it denies voters the right to kind of keep someone in office that they believe is doing a good job?  

Joe Troy:

Well, you know, it is a fact that we will no longer have justices that serve for 20 or 30 years, and that changes things, but they'll have the right to elect a new justice, someone that would be fresh to the court. And we will then see this actual turnover on a regular, but gradual basis of new people coming onto the court with their own perspectives and their own experience.  

Frederica Freyberg:

In terms of this idea of term limits kind of reducing the influence of campaign money, why didn't your task force embrace, say, public financing of judicial elections or mandatory recusals instead of the term limits ideas?

Joe Troy:

Those are both ideas that we certainly studies and considered along with many others, and completely different types of selection processes for justices. And we have determined that we want to do something that makes a difference and is possible, that is politically feasible. This plan is politically feasible because it's politically neutral. It helps all citizens. It doesn't advantage or disadvantage any particular ideology. And the fact is is that the changes that we have not been advocating all come with very strong opponents on many different levels, and would never sustain through two legislative sessions and the referendum of the people.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Joe Troy, thank you very much for joining us and explaining this.  

Joe Troy:

Thank you very much.   


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