Wisconsin Supreme Court elections
If a vacancy occurs, the governor of Wisconsin appoints a new justice. The Advisory Council on Judicial Selection recommends candidates, but the governor is not required to choose one of them. After being appointed, the justice runs for election to the seat in the next spring election without a justice already running.
In order to serve on the court, one must meet these conditions:
See also: Wisconsin judicial elections, 2013To organize the columns, click on the arrows in the column heading.
In the general election on April 5, 2011, Justice David Prosser narrowly defeated Court of Appeals JoAnne Kloppenburg, winning 50.19% of the vote. The winner was not certified until May 20, 2011, after the recount requested by the Kloppenburg campaign was completed.
Judge Michael Gableman defeated Justice Louis Butler in the Spring Election on April 1, 2008, after a hotly-contested campaign. The defeat of Butler was the first time since 1967 that a challenger defeated an incumbent Supreme Court Justice for a seat on Wisconsin's highest court. Justice George Currie lost his bid for re-election after he allowed the Milwaukee Braves baseball team to relocate to Atlanta.
With the election of Gableman, it was the first time in 110 years there was not a justice from Milwaukee on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
On April 3, 2007, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Annette Ziegler soundly defeated Madison Area Immigration attorney Linda Clifford by a sizeable 2 to 1 margin by taking 65 out of Wisconsin's 72 counties including Milwaukee County. The race was a open seat due to the retirement of Jon Wilcox.
Voters in 2007 soundly rejected Clifford due to not having any prior judicial experience to serve on the state's highest court and also on negative advertising done by her campaign that attacked Ziegler despite Clifford's campaign railed on Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce on attack ads pointed towards Clifford. Despite, Clifford won her home county Dane County by nearly 30,000 votes, Ziegler won in counties that played well for conservatives in the past and also in liberal counties of Wisconsin. Ziegler won in all the conservative strongholds including Green Bay, Appleton, Fond du Lac, and Oshkosh. Ziegler also won by close margins in virtually every swing region including Kenosha, Racine, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Janesville, and Beloit. Also, Ziegler won Milwaukee County by over 10,000 votes.
Ziegler had a broad appeal with independent, conservative and moderate voters that helped in her victory while Clifford was identified with many liberal voters.
The case drew controversy on two fronts. First, there were charges made by the Clifford Campaign that Ziegler illegally presided over 56 cases involving West Bend Savings Bank as her husband Todd Ziegler served on the bank's Board of Directors. Also, there was also a huge amount of money spent on advertising by third party groups including Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce. Business groups concerned about how recent rulings have affected the state's economic climate saw electing Ziegler as a way to preserve the court's current makeup at the time. Their game plan worked later the next year in the 2008 Supreme Court Election.
The high-stakes nature of the Ziegler-Clifford race helped the candidates raise a record-breaking $1.7 million by mid-March. And third parties threw unheard-of sums into TV ads, mailings and automated phone calls. The race saw harsh ads from all sides.
After the election, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission heard complaints about Ziegler's involvement in cases including West Bend Savings Bank. In May of 2008, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission publicly reprimanded Ziegler. While calling the misconduct "serious and significant," the high court in a 60-page opinion nonetheless opted for the most lenient discipline available. The court could have imposed a suspension or expulsion from the bench, although both the Wisconsin Judicial Commission and a three-judge Judicial Conduct Panel had recommended a reprimand. Groups including the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause, and One Wisconsin Now criticized the commissions ruling as too lenient.
2007 Supreme Court Election Results
In 1997, Jon Wilcox won election handily over ACLU attorney Walt Kelley. However, after the election, Kelley filed a complaint with the former Wisconsin State Elections Board (now the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board) that alleged that Wilcox's campaign illegally coordinated last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts with the supposedly independent Wisconsin Citizens for Voter Participation. State law bans any coordination or cooperation between independent groups like the coalition and a candidate or candidate's campaign organization.
As part of the largest collective settlement of a case involving state campaign finance law violations, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox agreed to personally pay a $10,000 fine on behalf of his 1997 re-election campaign. Under the settlement, Wilcox's campaign manager Mark Block also agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and promised not to work as a consultant or volunteer on any campaign until 2004. The coalition's co-founder, former Assembly Republican staffer Brent Pickens, agreed to pay a $35,000 fine and promised not to work on any campaigns for the next five years.
The settlement opened the door to suggestions by some that Wilcox should resign or be removed from the high court. One elections board member said Wilcox should, at the very least, sit out future cases involving the elections board.
- American Judicature Society, Wisconsin: Selection of Judges
- Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Results of Spring General Election - 4/7/2009
- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Gableman victorious," April 2, 2008
- Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, 2008 Spring Election Results
- "WI Government Accountablity Board," 2007 Supreme Court Canvas Results, November 18, 2008
- "WisPolitics," 2007 Supreme Court Election Blog, April 3, 2007