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Judges shouldn't have an R or a D behind their name
MADISON - Calling a lawsuit brought by Judge Siefert to insert partisanship into judicial campaigns an attack on Wisconsin's Judiciary, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked the State Bar of Wisconsin to get involved in the case of Siefert v. Alexander. At issue in the case is whether or not Wisconsin's long-standing tradition of having judges run as non-partisan officials should be changed.
Current law prohibits judges from being members of a political party. Judges are prohibited from publicly endorsing political candidates. In addition, judges may not personally solicit campaign contributions.
"I believe that justice is blind" said Van Hollen. "When someone walks into a courtroom they shouldn't have to worry about whether or not the judge sitting there has an R or a D behind their name."
Since statehood Wisconsin has chosen to elect its judges. Since the early twentieth century those elections, and all Wisconsin judges, have been nonpartisan. Judge John Siefert, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge would like to see that tradition changed and has filed a lawsuit against the state.
In his lawsuit Siefert indicates that he brought the suit forward because he wants to be able to join the Democratic Party and would like to be able to endorse partisan political candidates. Siefert is arguing that Wisconsin's law prohibiting judges from joining political parties is a violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech.
"Eliminating partisanship from the judiciary is the best way to assure that judges remain impartial," said Van Hollen. "I believe that the Siefert case could be a defining moment in Wisconsin's history. Are we going to keep judges non-partisan, or are we going to start putting R's and D's behind their names? That is what is at stake with this case, and that is why I am encouraging the State Bar of Wisconsin to get involved."
In a preliminary ruling last week during Siefert's request to suspend the Code of Judicial Conduct's non-partisan rules, Judge Barbara Crabb noted that granting Judge Siefert's request could cause significant disruption to the legal community in the state. "We believe that the State Bar of Wisconsin is in a unique position to assist in defending the long standing Wisconsin tradition of having non-partisan judges," said Van Hollen.