April 7, 2009

Vote Koschnick for circuit court judge

This recent editorial endorsement of Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, like several others before it, focuses on Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick's dubious political tactic of cherry-picking through literally thousands of the court's decisions to scrounge up a handful which he claims displease him.

At least, the results of those cases displease him. He's had next to nothing to say about how those results were obtained, which is the far more important consideration. And when he has attempted that examination, he's shown a woeful inability to engage the analysis.

That the newspaper editorialists have attended to Judge Koschnick's statistical fallacy is encouraging because for the most part the media's coverage of this Supreme Court election has been lamentable, lending unwarranted legitimacy to Koschnick's unsupported claims without investigating or even questioning them.

The Sheboygan Press also astutely notes that Judge Koschnick's central message is in effect a promise to rule contra the outcomes in the selected cases, and such promises are unethical.

Electing Supreme Court justices appears workable on a general theory of popular accountability, but lately it's been an irresistible temptation for self-described conservative candidates to behave exactly like aspirants to the legislative or executive branches, where campaign promises are perfectly appropriate and expected.

The role of the judiciary in the American constitutional scheme is substantively at odds with the other two branches and those types of promises directly impugn its core integrity and legitimacy.

Telegraphing in advance one's disposition when presented with particular issues — and Koschnick has been very particular indeed — is far more damaging to the perception of the judicial institution than the financial contributions he rails against, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia aptly demonstrated recently.

Of course the nature of political campaigns demands sound bites and the results — as opposed to the underlying reasoning — reached in particular cases are more easily digestible and provide short shrift for lazy reporters, which is why Koschnick has focused on a miniscule proportion of cases involving child molesters, gay people, and guns.

But on the relatively rare occasions where Koschnick has ventured deeper into the published opinions, what's revealed are troubling misrepresentations and even outright falsehoods.

That's not a positive indication for someone seeking a seat on the State's highest appellate court, which deals almost exclusively with subtle questions of constitutional and common law doctrine.

Of course there will be those who buy into Koschnick's political message — and that's all it is — no matter what. Some, like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's wise and influential columnist Patrick McIhleran, will even get suckered by his "judicial philosophy."

Except there's precious little evidence he has a "judicial philosophy" at all. Part of that "philosophy," he says, is interpreting the law "as written." But on many, many occasions, he's shown a marked inability to do even that. That's more than a little cause for concern.

There's no question that Judge Koschnick has faced a difficult and likely insurmountable burden in challenging an almost legendary jurist who's served nearly three-and-a-half decades on the court, without the benefit of the millions of dollars poured out in 2008 on behalf of his ideological predecessor, Michael Gableman.

Perhaps one of these years a "conservative" candidate for the Supreme Court will come along with a firm and studied grasp of the law, one who doesn't spend virtually all her time distorting the record of her opponent and pandering to the basest paranoias and misunderstandings of the voters, but this year definitely ain't it.

And after all, Judge Koschnick himself has said he's "committed to putting criminals behind bars," and the only place he can continue to do that is from his chair in Jefferson County. So he should probably just stay where he can be most effective to the people of Wisconsin.


Anonymous said...

"for circuit court judge"

I was just gonna say, that position would also seem to require some level of discernment that hasn't been on offer.

Anonymous said...

"One way hash argument." Thought you might appreciate.

Anonymous said...

If he runs again for Circuit Court Judge, we're going to give him a contest. As chief judge in Jefferson County, he's created a toxic environment at the courthouse, and he ought to be held accountable for that.