by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
February 14, 2017
Tucked into Gov. Walker’s budget are two proposals that would further imperil good government in Wisconsin.
The first is to take away the independence of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. Created by the legislature in 1978 as an agency independent of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Judicial Commission investigates alleged misconduct by any judge or court commissioner in the state, and it also investigates whether a disability so impairs a judge that he or she can no longer do the job. If it finds probable cause, it then brings a proceeding against the judge, which is heard by a panel of three appellate court judges. These judges then pass their recommendations on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which determines whether a judge should be reprimanded, censured, suspended, or removed.
Governor Scott Walker
By stripping it of its independence and handing it over to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, one of the most biased and rigged courts in the country, Walker is jeopardizing its ability to flash a light on judicial misconduct. The chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court could water down the guidelines that the Commission uses. What’s more, favoritism could rule the day: The chief justice could subtly or not so subtly indicate to the staff not to investigate a friend, relative, or donor of the chief or to one of the chief’s allies on the court.
Second, Walker has proposed a massive 30 percent cut to the Elections Commission, which would result in the elimination of six staff positions. This comes at a time when the Commission is still in its infancy. It also comes at a time when the electorate and the county clerks are still trying to figure out the voter ID law, as well as the new electronic registrations. And it comes at a time when institutional memory is at risk. The Commission was established in late 2015 after the legislature and Walker destroyed the Government Accountability Board, replacing it with a partisan Elections Commission and Ethics Commission. Getting rid of these slots would risk reducing the knowledge base of the staff.