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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    October 21, 2015

    State Bar Committee Seeks Bipartisan Support for 16-year Term Proposal

    Brittney Weiland


    JESC members, pictured from left: Attorney Tom Shriner, Attorney Cathy Rottier, Attorney John Orton and Judge Joe Troy.

    Oct. 21, 2015 – The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Judicial Election Steering Committee (JESC) ​held a public briefing at the state Capitol on Tuesday to discuss, with legislators, the group’s recommendation for a single, 16-year term for supreme court justices. 

    The conversation, which helped answer outstanding questions about the State Bar’s proposal before it is introduced as a bipartisan bill, was led by Attorneys John Orton (Curran, Hollenbeck & Orton, S.C.), Cathy Rottier (Boardman & Clark LLP), Tom Shriner (Foley & Lardner LLP) and reserve Judge Joe Troy (Habush, Habush & Rottier).

    Orton, chair of the JESC, told the legislators and staff in attendance that the goal of the proposal is to improve and maintain public confidence in the court, and to separate the court, to the extent possible, from politics.

    “Making this change to our state’s highest court will also enhance the appearance of the court’s integrity and independence,” Orton added.

    The initial request to study the supreme court came from State Bar Past President James Brennan in 2011. Brennan wanted to better understand the public’s confidence in the court, so he created a four-member task force with two liberal and two conservative attorneys.

    The 16-year term proposal is unique to Wisconsin.  After studying other states and their judicial election processes, the task force felt that that their proposal was the most fitting for the culture of the state.

    “We can live with an election, and we can live with a very vigorous election process to elect someone in the first term,” Shriner said. “But justices sitting on the court shouldn’t be subjected to re-election while they’re sitting and deciding cases.”

    According to its drafters, the proposal is not intended to disrupt the current composition of the court, and it still enables those who are elected to serve long, fulfilling terms without the distraction of campaigning for re-election. The task force made sure that their proposal did not undermine the election process – considering the fact that elections are important to Wisconsin and its history.

    Once the proposal was approved by the State Bar’s Board of Governors in 2013, the task force expanded into the JESC, with the goal of introducing a constitutional amendment to change the term of a supreme court justice.

    Brittney WeilandFor more information contact Brittney Weiland, public affairs coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org bweiland wisbar wisbar bweiland org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.

    Specifically, the proposal would amend Article 7, Section 4 of Wisconsin’s Constitution. The amendment process requires the approval of a joint resolution by two consecutive legislatures and a ratification vote by a majority of the electorate.

    “This proposal will make the system more loyal to the principles of the constitution and of the separation of powers,” Troy said. “It will mean that when a justice is on the court they have one duty: to be loyal to the law. That’s their only job. They never again have to become a politician.”

    As it currently stands, the legislation has been drafted but has yet to be introduced. The legislature is scheduled to be in session through the end of the year and is set to reconvene in early 2016.


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