By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
If the Wisconsin Supreme Court isn’t careful, it could end up having lower approval ratings than Congress.
An opinion poll conducted by Justice at Stake, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C., found that Wisconsinites’ confidence in their Supreme Court has nose-dived to 33 percent, down from 52 percent just three years ago.
“Wisconsin’s citizens are losing faith and confidence in their Supreme Court,” said Bert Brandenburg, the group’s executive director.
The survey, conducted in the wake of allegations of a physical altercation between Wisconsin Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley, confirms that tensions on the court are having a negative effect on public confidence.
Eighty-four percent of respondents said they were aware of these allegations, first reported by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio. And 80 percent reported knowing about an incident in which Justice Prosser called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a profane word and threatened to “destroy” her during an argument.
An even greater number of respondents — 88 percent — said they were “somewhat” or “very” concerned that rising spending on state Supreme Court campaigns is “compromising the fairness and impartiality of Wisconsin’s courts,” with 64 percent saying they were “very” concerned.
Despite that, only 23 percent of respondents said they preferred a system of merit selection to pick members of the court, while 59 percent were opposed. But nearly half said they would be more likely to support appointed justices if there were periodic retention elections, as are held in some other states.
The statewide opinion survey of 750 Wisconsin residents was conducted July 18-20 by 20/20 Insight Polling, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.
Bill Lueders is president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and other news media. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.